Today, a shared press conference between EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and UK chief Brexit negotiator David Davis marked the end of the fourth round of the Brexit negotiations.

The EU has defined and is shaping the pace of negotiations, and this has forced the UK to follow rather than lead. Barnier has shown himself to be the guide, teacher and the stronger negotiator; a “Frenchman marking his own homework as well as that of his rival.” 

Barnier said that it will take time until the EU decides to move on to the next phase of the negotiations and discuss the future trade relationship.  He highlighted that there was more work to be done: “We managed to create clarity on some points. On others, however, more work remains to be done. We are not there yet.” He did, however, mention that Theresa May’s Florence speech “created a new dynamic.”

Davis was more optimistic. He said that “thanks to the constructive and determined manner with which both sides have conducted these negotiations we are making decisive steps forward.”

EU citizens’ rights

On the issue of citizens’ rights, Davis said that after Brexit the UK is “committed to incorporating the final withdrawal agreement fully into UK law.” Campaigners for EU citizens’ rights welcomed the news that they could have the privilege of retaining their EU rights written into the withdrawal agreement. This means that EU citizens will be able to challenge and question any legal change to their status and rights by UK courts. 

Nicolas Hatton of the not for profit campaign group for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens living and working in the EU, the3million, said: “The direct effect is really welcome. I think it is really positive because it will mean if there any attempt to change our rights by a future government, or the Home Office, we will be able to challenge in in the UK courts.”

Davis, during the Q&A, reiterated the government’s desire to offer certainty to EU nationals: “We accept, and have done from the start, that there is a need for certainty for them. That’s what we are aiming to produce, without allowing the European court of justice to make rulings within and on cases in the UK. And this is the compromise we are working towards. It is not unusual. There are plenty of arrangements where we have treaties that confine what the United Kingdom [can] do - very specific, with very real aims. And that’s what we are doing here.”

Barnier also considered this a positive development: “It will give the assurance to our citizens that they will be able to invoke their rights, as defined by the Withdrawal Agreement, before UK courts. We agreed to guarantee - for the citizens concerned - that the UK will apply EU law concepts in a manner that is consistent with EU law after Brexit.” 

For him, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the ultimate guarantor of European rights was something that, on the UK side, remains unacceptable, because it contradicts the Leave campaign’s slogan of taking back control of the UK courts and sovereignty. In this sense, the ECJ remains a problem for the EU. Barnier said: “We failed to agree that the European court of justice must play an indispensable role in ensuring this consistency. This is a stumbling block for the EU.”

The ECJ wasn’t the only issue of disagreement. For example, questions surrounding family reunification issues persisted. Barnier enumerated some of them: “1) A big gap remains between our positions on family reunification. We want existing rights to continue for the citizens concerned. 2) The export of social security benefits also remains to be discussed. 3) Citizens need simplified administrative procedures. The UK stated its intention to put in place a streamlined system.”

Davis reminded him that the UK government provided assurances on how EU citizens could apply for new status, and that those with permanent residency documents would not have to re-apply. Davis noted that: “We have provided further reassurance on how European Union citizens will be able to apply for a new status, once we leave. And we know that those already holding permanent residency documents should not have to go through the full process. So we presented early thinking on detailed processes and plans on how we might ensure this does not happen.”

He also clarified that there were guaranteed rights of return for settled EU citizens in the UK,” which means that they can leave the country and return without any problems.

The European parliament has drawn up a resolution to be voted on next Tuesday regarding the unfair and unjust treatment of EU nationals in the UK and that of Britons in Europe.

Financial obligations

Barnier, as expected, wasn’t satisfied with May’s offer of money during her Florence speech. He said that commitments made by the EU28 should be honoured by the EU28. In his speech he explained: “Prime Minister May said two things in Florence. First: that no member state should pay more; and no member state should receive less because of Brexit. Second, that the UK will honour commitments taken during its membership. This week, the UK negotiating team made clear that applying the first principle would be limited to 2019-2020. The UK explained also that it is not in a position yet to identify its commitments taken during membership. For the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken at 28 are honoured at 28.”

According to the Guardian, Barnier’s comment on the final agreement on money where he said it would be a “political agreement”, shows that this would not be settled by “lawyers and accountants,” but that the UK would end up paying more than it thinks it owes. 

For the EU, their expectations weren’t met, while the UK was satisfied with the progress. As many summed up the press conference, for Barnier the negotiations so far could be condensed in his phrase “have no sufficient progress,” whereas, on the side of the UK, Davis’ perspective could be captured by the phrase “have made substantial progress.” May’s speech has nonetheless helped the EU understand the UK’s views better, but it will take months until both sides feel that sufficient progress has been made.