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Round three ends with a whimper
The third round of the Brexit negotiations has concluded not with a bang but a whimper. In an awkward press conference, chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis looked as if they had emerged from different meetings. Barnier, insisting that he had maintained the “calm of a mountaineer”, lamented the lack of “decisive progress on the key issues”, while Davis welcomed the “concrete progress” that was made in the talks.
Barnier accused the UK’s negotiating position of showing “a kind of nostalgia taking the form of requests that would amount to enjoying the benefits of the single market and EU membership without actually being a part of them”. In one of the sharper exchanges of the presser, Davis replied that Barnier should not “confuse a belief in the free market with nostalgia.”
The disagreements expose a deep and seemingly intractable gap between the two sides’ positions, which persists even after the third round of negotiations.
The UK wants to progress as quickly as possible to talks on a trade deal. But the EU insists on reaching agreement on the divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish border before moving to other matters. On Tuesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated that no progress can be made without a settlement on these issues. “First of all we settle the past before we look forward to the future,” he said.
While Barnier and Davis agreed that the “quality, not timing” of the deal was most important, the timing remains critical: Britain has only 18 months to settle its future relationship with the EU. Without a deal, it will face a “cliff edge” exit that could be catastrophic for Britain’s economy.
Labour firms up its Brexit stance
Since the referendum, Labour’s position on Brexit has been ambiguous at best, counterproductive at worst. Until last weekend.
In a stunning U-turn, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told The Guardian that Labour wanted the UK to enter into an extended transition arrangement during which it would remain part of the single market. Under the proposals, free movement, payments to the EU budget and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would remain unchanged for the duration of the transition.
Starmer also suggested that Labour was open to the idea of permanent single market membership, subject to additional controls on immigration. This is a significant departure from Labour’s earlier position; only a few months ago, Jeremy Corbyn sacked a number of frontbenchers for supporting an amendment to the Queen’s speech on single market membership.
- Hopes that France would bypass the EU negotiations and enter into direct discussions with the UK were scuppered as the French government reiterated that it supports, “on the substance as well as on the method, Michel Barnier’s negotiating mandate.”
- Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, criticised Theresa May for her absence from the negotiations. “She needs to be over there negotiating or at least removing these roadblocks, not swanning around Japan drinking tea and sake,” he said.
- A Conservative peer suggested that Brexit will be good because it will allow young people in Britain to work longer hours. As a young person, I object.
Lead photo of Michel Barnier. Toms Norde, Valsts kanceleja / Flickr.