U.K. Seeks Brexit Momentum With EU as Key Ministers End Dispute

  • Davis’s department to issue position papers starting this week
  • Fox and Hammond make joint declaration on transition deal

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The U.K. will this week seek to regain momentum in the Brexit talks by publishing outlines of its negotiating positions, after two key ministers ended their disagreement over a post-European Union transition period.

David Davis

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

The government plans to issue three discussion papers ahead of the next round of discussions, scheduled to start Aug. 28 in Brussels, Brexit Secretary David Davis’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

The documents -- setting out proposals for Northern Ireland and the border with Ireland, continuity on the availability of goods, and confidentiality and access to official documents after Brexit -- will seek to prove the U.K. is ready for talks to advance to the next stage, according to the statement.

Britain is struggling with the negotiations, and the sluggish pace so far has sparked concerns the March 2019 exit deadline will arrive without a deal being reached. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned ambassadors last month that the lack of progress meant talks on the future relationship with the U.K., including a free-trade agreement, might not be possible by the next summit of the bloc in October and might have to extended.

"I’ve launched this process because, with time of the essence, we need to get on with negotiating the bigger issues around our future partnership to ensure we get a deal that delivers a strong U.K. and a strong EU," Davis said. "It’s what businesses across Europe have called on both sides to do and will demonstrate that the U.K. is ready for the job."

United Front

In a further sign that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party is seeking to show a united front, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Trade Secretary Liam Fox published a joint statement in which they said a transition period following Brexit isn’t a way for Britain to stay in the European Union “through the back door.”

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the two cabinet members said that “we are both clear” that during the period Britain would be outside the single market and the customs union “and will be a ‘third country’ not party to EU treaties.”

The ministers were seen being on opposing sides on Brexit, with Hammond championing a business-friendly approach in which Britain gradually leaves the EU, while Fox sought as short a transition as possible and for the U.K. to have the freedom to immediately negotiate trade deals.

‘Crystal Clear’

While May’s government seeks to demonstrate to voters and the EU that it has a coherent position, there are still disagreements between the U.K. and the bloc over how to approach negotiating a future trade deal. Barnier has maintained that negotiators must make progress on the rights of EU and British citizens, the border with Ireland and Britain’s exit payment before discussing a deal. May wants an accord before leaving.

"We’ve been crystal clear that issues around our withdrawal and our future partnership are inextricably linked, and the negotiations so far have reinforced that view,” the Department for Exiting the EU said in the statement released Sunday. “These papers show we are ready to broaden out the negotiations."

A series of broader “future partnership” papers will also be published in the run-up to the October negotiating session. The first of these will set out proposals for a new customs agreement.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Oct. 19, then again on Dec. 14.

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