Barnier Says He Can’t Be Flexible Until He Knows What U.K. Wants

Updated on
  • Barnier says he needs to know U.K.’s position on key issues
  • Clock ticking as acrimony overshadows third round of talks

U.K. Asks EU for More Brexit Negotiating Sessions

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European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he can’t accede to U.K. demands to be “flexible” until he knows what Britain wants.

"To be flexible you need two points, our point and their point," Barnier told reporters on the sidelines of talks in Brussels on Wednesday. "We need to know their position and then I can be flexible."

The Bloomberg Brexit Barometer plunged on the second full day of the latest round of talks.

The comments are further evidence that the third round of talks is failing to make progress, with both sides venting their frustrations in public. Talks kicked off with the Europeans rebuking the U.K. for being unprepared, while Britain continues to butt against the EU’s schedule for talks -- first the divorce and then the future relationship.

The thorny issue of the bill was tackled in this round of negotiations but the raft of position documents Britain published in the lead-up to talks didn’t include a paper on how it proposed to calculate the financial settlement of the divorce. The U.K. cabinet has only just reached a consensus that it should pay its dues.

Read more: What’s So Tricky About Transition?

“The lack of detailed and workable proposals in the position papers the U.K. has produced, and the failure to advance the talks owing to the disagreement over money, mean that that the U.K. is losing the limited ability it had to shape the transitional arrangements,” J.P.Morgan analyst Malcolm Barr said in a note.

As negotiators struggle for common ground, the clock is ticking down to a mid-October deadline when Britain has to satisfy EU leaders that it has done enough for talks to move on to trade.

“If it goes very slow, as is the case at the moment, it will be very difficult to say there is sufficient progress when we are in October,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, told EU lawmakers in Brussels on Wednesday.

Verhofstadt said there is “more and more recognition” that a transitional period will be needed as the U.K. leaves the bloc -- something the EU won’t even talk about until the outline of the divorce settlement is clear.

The issue of transitional arrangements also divided the U.K. cabinet until this month, when consensus started to form around the idea of an extended transition to allow businesses to adapt.

But Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated on Wednesday that she wants a bridging arrangement outside the scope of the single market and customs union -- something the EU is skeptical about, and which would eat up even more precious negotiating time.

— With assistance by Jonathan Stearns, and Jones Hayden

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