EU Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier was accused of “holding Britain to ransom” at the end of his sixth round of monthly talks in Brussels with British Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Both men said they had moved forwards but more work was needed on three areas where the EU insists a certain level of progress is needed for next month’s summit of national leaders to agree talks can move onto future relationships, including trade.
The three are Britain’s “divorce bill” for leaving, protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the Continent, and the future border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Mr Barnier told a press conference with Mr Davis: “Only sufficient progress – that is to say sincere and real progress – on the three main key issues will enable the triggering of the second phase of our negotiation.”
‘Time to say ENOUGH’ Barnier accused of holding Britain ‘to ransom’ with two-week deadline
Once again Barnier demands a huge ransom from the British Government with no promise of anything in return
He insisted: “We are not asking the UK for concessions, nor are we planning to make any concessions ourselves.”
But when he was asked by a journalist to confirm that “you will need ‘clarifications’ or ‘concessions’, whichever you prefer, from the UK within two weeks, in order to move onto the second phase in December”, Mr Barnier replied in his native French: “My answer is yes.”
He made clear the centrality of Britain’s divorce payment in Brussels’ thinking as he said there must be work in coming weeks on an “objective interpretation” of Theresa May’s promise in her speech in Florence that Brexit would not leave other EU countries out of pocket during the bloc’s current budget period which ends in 2020.
Mr Barnier went on: “This is absolutely vital if we are to achieve sufficient progress in December. It’s just a matter of settling accounts, as in any separation.”
Nigel Farage: ‘Time to say enough’
He stressed he must consult the 27 other EU member states and the European Parliament before and after each round of talks with the UK on the complex issues at stake “which is why I need time”.
He insisted he did not need all the “nitty gritty” settled now “but we want sufficient progress.
“If that’s not the case, we will continue and that will put back the opening of discussions on the future.”
Mr Davis said the UK was ready to engage “as often and as quickly as is needed” to secure the right outcome in time for the EU summit of leaders on December 14 and 15.
He added: “There is no doubt we have made and continue to make significant progress across a whole range of issues.
Nigel Farage tweeted his outrage against Barnier’s deadline proposal
“That course will continue at pace between now and December and I hope it will lead to sufficient progress,” said Mr Davis.
He underlined Britain’s willingness to honour commitments made while an EU member but, calling for flexibility and “pragmatism” on both sides, he said: “This is now about moving on to the political discussions…
“We must now look ahead to moving our discussion into our future relationship.”
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage Tweeted: “Once again Barnier demands a huge ransom from the British Government with no promise of anything in return. Time to say enough.”
Conservative MP and former Brexit minister David Jones said: “The EU is behaving really badly.
Both men said they had moved forwards but more work was needed
“They should be talking to us about the future relationship anyway as prescribed by Article 50.”
Mr Jones said the EU must set out its detailed reasoning if it wanted more money and Britain could then consider it: “We can’t allow them to pluck a figure out of the air.
“But a lot of the mood music from the EU is that they simply want a bung to start negotiations.
“If we carry on like this we should tell the EU that ‘we will assume you’re not really serious so we will suspend the negotiations and start making arrangements for life outside the EU’.”
One Whitehall source stressed: “It is the EU Council of leaders who take the decisions – and they meet in December.”
Earlier, Mr Davis insisted he would not accept any solution to the issue of the Irish border that damaged the “constitutional economic integrity of the UK”.
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He said there had been “frank discussions” on the issue after a leaked paper suggested Brussels was hardening its stance by suggesting Northern Ireland would have to stay in the EU customs union to avoid the reimposition of a “hard border”.
Mr Davis said there would need to be “specific solutions” for the unique position of Northern Ireland “this cannot amount to creating a new border inside our United Kingdom”.
The talks came after Mrs May reiterated that she would “not tolerate attempts from any quarter” to use vital Brexit legislation returning to the Commons on Tuesday as a mechanism to try “to block the democratic wishes of the British people by attempting to slow down or stop our departure from the EU.”
The Government has already moved to reassure people that there will not be any backsliding on Brexit by tabling amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill spelling out that Britain will be leaving the EU at 11pm UK time on March 29, 2019.
The original Bill did not spell out the date, although it has long been…