Brexit Talks End in Acrimony Amid Stalemate Over Bill

  • EU chief negotiator says ‘far’ from making necessary progress
  • Sterling falls to weakest in a week after Barnier’s comments

Barnier Says Brexit Progress Far From Sufficient

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Brexit talks ended in stalemate, with both sides deadlocked over the divorce bill and tensions spilling over as the European Union’s negotiator mocked Prime Minister Theresa May.

Michel Barnier said Britain is refusing to acknowledge its financial obligations and wants a deal that’s impossible to achieve. In the coded language of the EU, the “sufficient progress” needed to move on to trade talks hasn’t been made.

The pound weakened to its lowest in a week as the failure of the talks increases the chances of the U.K. tumbling out of the EU without a deal in 2019. The acrimony was clear as Barnier cited May’s oft-repeated and much derided slogans to make the point that the U.K. cannot have it all.

“Brexit means Brexit, leaving the single market, means leaving the single market and if that’s what’s been decided there will be consequences,” Barnier told a news conference in Brussels alongside Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Pile of paperwork.

Negotiations on the future relationship can’t start until EU leaders agree to it, and it’s now looking unlikely they will do that at the next summit in October. That would push it back to December, leaving barely a year to sort a trade deal. The EU won’t discuss transitional arrangements until progress has been made on the divorce issues, and in any case the U.K.’s request for a bespoke transition deal, rather than seeking a simpler extension of the status quo, has prompted skepticism in Brussels.

Read more: What’s So Tricky About Transition?

EU officials told reporters that the U.K. position on the bill was that it has no obligations after Brexit and it’s only on the hook for annual payments while a member. The possible costs of a transitional deal weren’t discussed, they said.

The British team refused to set out what it’s prepared to pay for, and instead used the sessions to pick holes in the EU’s calculations, according to people familiar with the U.K. position.

“This week it is clear that the U.K. does not feel legally obliged to honor these obligations after departure," Barnier said.

Read more: Feeling Nostalgic? EU Mocks ‘Brexit Means Brexit’

The pound fell to a one-week low after Barnier’s comments. Still, swings in the pound are becoming restrained as traders get inured to Brexit news. Implied volatility on the pound is the second-lowest of the Group-of-10 currencies, a sign traders don’t expect much action over the next three months.

‘Simply Impossible’

Barnier also slammed the U.K. for wanting it both ways, seeking to “take back control” and set its own rules but also have those standards and regulations recognized automatically in the EU. “This is simply impossible,” he said.

Davis had a different view, saying the talks were a “stepping stone” to future rounds. Both sides agreed that talks on the Irish border were “fruitful” in a rare sign of agreement. On the bill, he said obligations “have to be specified, have to be real,” and the U.K. is right to examine the bill line by line.

“The British taxpayer would expect nothing less,” he said.

The British taxpayer isn’t very keen on paying up at all, a recent poll by ICM showed. Forty percent said a bill of just 10 billion pounds was unacceptable, rising to 65 percent for 20 billion pounds and 72 percent for 30 billion pounds. 

EU officials have estimated the bill, which includes budget commitments, pensions and previously pledged contingencies, could amount to 60 billion euros ($71 billion), although some analysts suggest it could be reduced if a transition deal were structured to include annual payments.

— With assistance by Jones Hayden, Marine Strauss, Nikos Chrysoloras, and Anooja Debnath

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