Friday, December 15, 2017

The first phase of Brexit talks has run out of road with no further rounds of meetings currently scheduled between British and European officials, despite continuing deadlock on key issues.

Officials on both sides confirmed that there were no meetings with the other side currently scheduled, despite widespread recognition that sufficient progress will not be judged to have been met to move to trade talks following next week’s European Council meeting.

Though further talks are expected to be scheduled following the meeting, there is an increasing recognition in Brussels that negotiations are at a crossroads.

European Council President Donald Tusk warned this week that if the deadlock were not broken by the end of the year then both sides would have to “think about where we are heading”. 

The latest round of talks this week featured, for the first time, a day-long gap. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier also explained on Thursday that officials had not even sat down to seriously discuss the divorce bill this week because of a lack of agreement.

The European Council meeting, attended by the heads of state or government of the EU nations, will take place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of this week and will officially judge whether “sufficient progress” has been made.

But officials are adamant that following the recommendation of the two other main pillars of the EU – the Commission and Parliament – not to grant sufficient progress, the Council will follow suit. After next week, the next opportunity for sufficient progress to be declared will be in December, the next time the leaders will meet as European Council.

There have been five rounds of talks so far, one in each month since negotiations first began in June. Despite some agreement in the early stages on issues like EU citizens, the latter rounds have been somewhat slower, with fewer briefings and public statements from the two sides during the course of talks. 

David Davis also stayed away from Brussels on Monday of this week’s talks, eschewing the usual introductory press conference with Michel Barnier because of “parliamentary business”. 

According to a leaked draft of Mr Tusk’s statement, the EU will call on Britain to improve its offer – but, if this condition is met, offer a swift move to trade talks by December.

Following Theresa May’s Florence speech, however, the Prime Minister has said she believes the ball is in the EU’s court and that it is now for Brussels to make proposals or concessions. Though Brussels chiefs have dismissed the ball-game metaphor, they are of a similar belief that it is Britain that should be giving ground.