BRUSSELS: Britain and the EU kick off a third round of Brexit talks Monday, with London impatient to agree its future relationship with the bloc while Brussels insists the divorce settlement comes first.
The European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier will meet his British counterpart David Davis late afternoon in Brussels for a first exchange, followed by three days of discussions and a joint press conference.
The EU says there has to be “sufficient progress” in three key areas—EU citizen rights, Northern Ireland’s border and the exit bill—before it can consider London’s demand for talks on future ties in October.
Britain says it would be best to negotiate the two in parallel and that settling trade issues may even help with other problems such as the future EU-UK border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
That is a complete no-go for Brussels which made no secret of the fact that it expects little progress in bridging what officials last week called a “very big gap”.
They also blamed Britain for a “lack of substance” despite a flurry of position papers they said were strong on aspiration but short on detail.
Barnier last week listed on Twitter the EU’s own negotiating documents, noting: “EU positions clear and transparent since day one.”
‘Get down to work’
Davis said Monday the British papers were “products of the hard work and detailed thinking that has been going on behind the scenes and should form the basis of what I hope will be a constructive week of talks”.
“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get down to work once more,” he added.
Both sides have repeatedly warned that the clock is ticking down to the March 2019 Brexit deadline and that they are the ones doing their best to make progress.
The situation is complicated by sharp divisions within Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government after a June election gamble backfired and she lost her parliamentary majority.
May remains in office thanks to a deal with Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party which views the Republic with deep suspicion.
EU officials warned last week that the hard-won Northern Ireland peace process could not be used as a bargaining chip.
As for London’s suggestion that technology could help prevent the border becoming a barrier to trade and the peace process, that was just “a lot of magical thinking,” one EU official said.