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Britain and EU clash over Brexit ‘time pressure’ claim

Published on 17/10/2017

The British and EU Brexit negotiators clashed Tuesday over a claim by London that Brussels is holding up divorce negotiations to get Britain to pay more money on its withdrawal from the bloc.

The war of words between David Davis and Michel Barnier erupted just a day after they attended what was meant to be a fence-mending dinner with Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

“They’re using time pressure to see if they can get more money out of us — it’s obvious to anybody,” Davis told the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the British parliament.

“And that will take some time, but we will get there in time, I’m quite sure, to get a decent outcome for everybody.”

Frenchman Barnier hit back at the “bit odd” accusation, saying May had not triggered the two-year Brexit negotiation process for a year after the referendum vote to leave, and that British elections had delayed the start of talks until June.

“Just look at the timetable. The EU is not holding anything or anybody back,” Barnier said after meeting EU ministers in Luxembourg to discuss their Brexit policy.

“We are ready and willing to even speed up the negotiations, in the meantime we will respect the various stages which we are bound to. We don’t have any intention of holding up any process whatsoever.”

– ‘We’re reaching the limits’ –

Fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement with the European Union before its formal departure on March 29, 2019.

Time is of the essence with an EU summit this week set to push back to December the bloc’s likely date for meeting Britain’s demands to open talks on a future trade deal.

Davis warned that the two sides were “reaching the limits of what we can achieve” in the first stage of Brexit negotiations, which are focusing on the financial settlement, EU citizens’ rights and the Irish border.

The divorce bill — estimated by the EU at between 100 and 60 billion euros, and Britain at 20 billion euros — is the major sticking point.

Davis urged the EU leaders meeting later this week to “recognise the progress made” and give Barnier a mandate to move on to Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.

“We must be able to talk about the future. We all have to recognise that we’re reaching the limits of what we can achieve without consideration of the future relationship,” Davis told members of parliament.

He added: “At the European Council later this week, I hope the leaders of the 27 will recognise the progress made and provide Michel Barnier with a mandate to build on the momentum and spirit of cooperation we now have.”

– ‘Takes two to accelerate’ –

Davis and May travelled to Brussels on Monday evening for dinner with Barnier and Juncker, and in a joint statement issued afterwards, May and Juncker said they agreed to “accelerate” efforts for a deal.

May’s spokesman said Tuesday that the Juncker dinner was “productive, it was a friendly discussion” and the pair “agreed on the need to make swift progress”.

For his part Barnier said Tuesday he was ready to intensify talks with London but warned “it takes two to accelerate”, adding that both sides still had “a lot of work to do.”

The EU European Affairs ministers said divisions in May’s government were holding up the talks.

“At the moment it seems the EU27 is more unanimous than (the) UK1 so that’s one of the main problems here,” Samuli Virtanen, state secretary at the Finnish foreign ministry said in Luxembourg.

“When we read the British press sometimes it’s very difficult to understand what Britain really wants from these negotiations.”

Davis denied his government was talking up the prospect of leaving the EU in 2019 without a deal in place.

While repeating that Britain was preparing for all eventualities, he said: “We are seeking to get a deal. That is by far and away the best option.”