Last Brexit Conference: “Here We Are Again”
The chief Brexit negotiators for the UK and EU, David Davis and Michel Barnier, held their last press conference today, following the fifth round of Article 50 negotiations, amidst speculation that the talks have reached a stalemate. The negotiations are circling around the contested issue of money and patently, the EU wants the UK to pay in order to talk trade. However, the UK cannot possibly agree to pay for something that hasn’t been agreed yet.
The press conference took place before the EU summit next week where the 27 leaders are expected to agree on the failure of the Brexit negotiations and the insufficient progress which has made it impossible to move to discussions over trade.
Labour has called for a new round of emergency Brexit talks after today’s “deadlock.” Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has written an open letter to David Davis asking the government to call for new discussions with the EU. He wrote: “I am deeply concerned that more than six months on from the triggering of article 50 this round of discussions has ended without an agreement, with the European Union warning of a ‘disturbing deadlock’ over the divorce settlement. It now looks likely that the EU council next week will not be able to agree negotiations have proceeded sufficiently to open up trade talks.” The deadlock, he said, increased the risk of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, which would be “catastrophic” for jobs and living standards.
Barnier began with a positive message. He said that “decisive progress” was within reach, since further talks in the next two months might bring the two sides closer. Even Michel Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, tweeted the aforementioned statement as a key moment in Barnier’s speech.
Barnier welcomed May’s Florence speech which “has given these negotiations much needed momentum.” The past week was constructive but “without making any great steps forward,” he said. He reiterated that achieving and remaining faithful to the three objectives of protecting citizens’ rights, preserving the peace process between Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland and honouring the commitments taken at 28, was the cornerstone of the negotiations. These objectives make up the condition for “engaging in a discussion, as soon as possible, on a new ambitious, long-lasting partnership.”
At the moment, he said that the two objectives on citizens’ rights were the withdrawal agreement taking effect to guarantee the rights of all citizens in the long term and the similar interpretation of these rights in both the EU and UK. Barnier said that the European Court of Justice remained important in its role to oversee and protect citizens’ rights. For the EU, it’s important that every European citizen in the UK and every British citizen in the EU has the right to bring his/her parents to the country that they live and work, or any EU citizen working for 20 years in the UK is able to move to an EU member State and benefit from his disability allowance, as would a British citizen in the EU.
On the issue of the financial agreement, Barnier said that Theresa May’s commitment during her Florence speech to honour the UK’s financial obligations during the period of its EU membership, was taken as an important declaration by the EU. However, technical discussions didn’t clarify this commitment, and Barnier stressed that “We, are therefore, at a deadlock on this question.” This was “worrying for European taxpayers and those who benefit from EU policies,” he added.
He concluded that he was unable to “recommend to the European Council next week to open discussions on the future relationship.” He clarified that the question wasn’t about making “concessions,” but about sharing obligations and objectives, and finding “shared solutions.”
David Davis’ speech
Brexiteer and negotiator Davis, retained his positivity and praised the constructive talks and the shared political objectives of the UK and EU. Although there was still work to be done, he said progress has been significant since June. He agreed that there was more certainty on citizens’ rights and that the past week saw the two sides discussing in depth such issues as those relating to the right to bring in future family members, exporting a range of benefits, enjoying the recognition of professional qualifications, and voting in local elections.
Davis highlighted that the most productive area of this week’s discussions was that on citizens’ rights and being able to reassure EU citizens living in the UK. He said: “today I can confirm that we want to reassure those European citizens living in the UK that their rights and status will be enshrined in UK law by the Withdrawal Agreement. And yes, there will be a registration process but the administration process will be completely new. It will be streamlined, and it will be low cost. And in addition to that any EU citizen in the UK already in possession of a permanent residence card will be able to exchange it simply for settled status in a simple way. They will not have to go through the full application process again.” He clarified that he would set out his position on citizens’ future rights in a statement that could be shared with the EU27. Both EU and UK citizens would have similar guarantees, Davis explained.
Davis recognised that they were “making real and tangible progress,” without forgetting “the fact that to provide certainty we must talk about the future.” But, while trade and money are being talked about, no progress or agreement seems to have been made, despite Theresa May’s speech in Florence. As European Council president Donald Tusk said, any talks for a trade deal would not come until December, while Barnier reminded the UK that “No deal will be a very bad deal.”