BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Three days after Theresa May sought to revive Brexit negotiations by hinting at concessions on the divorce terms and painting a glowing picture of future friendship, EU negotiators want to hear detail on Monday.
The British prime minister’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, is expected in Brussels for a fourth round of talks with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier. The Frenchman said after May’s carefully calibrated speech in Renaissance Florence on Friday that it was “constructive”. But he wants to hear firm offers.
Without “significant progress” on three key elements of a planned treaty to ease Britain’s passage out of the Union in March 2019, Barnier said, EU leaders will refuse to open any talks on a free trade and cooperation deal, let alone on the two-year transition to it that May requested.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel concentrating on her problematic re-election on Sunday, it was French President Emmanuel Macron who rammed home the demand from the continent that Britain not get ahead of itself, and settle its divorce.
May’s speech was intended to jolt the divorce talks out of deadlock, three months after they began, and to demonstrate some unity in her government — notably on remaining in the EU single market and accepting its rules for a couple of years after Brexit, a bitter pill for some opponents of EU membership.
But much of her 35-minute address dwelt on the “Shared Future”. The tone went down well with some: “There are many positive elements, especially regarding future relations,” a senior EU government official said. “On the other hand, on issues related with the separation, there is not much clarity. We are looking forward to receiving detailed proposals.”
Davis is expected to meet Barnier late on Monday afternoon to launch the talks before leaving officials to conduct the negotiations until Thursday. Then, as in previous rounds, the two lead negotiators are expected to brief reporters.
May made two potentially important concessions on Friday: a direct role for the EU-UK exit treaty and for EU case law in British judges’ rulings on the future rights of EU citizens in Britain; and a promise that Brexit would not hit the EU’s current budget.
On the first, Barnier may repeat the EU demand for direct oversight by European Court of Justice; on the second, EU negotiators insist Britain will owe a share of Union spending for years after the budget May referred to, which ends in 2020.
One potential benefit from a transition period may be that it lets Britain present its voters with a somewhat less hefty bill for leaving than the 60 billion euros ($70 billion) or so that Brussels reckons it would owe the EU come March 2019.
About a third of that 60 billion represents what the EU wants Britain to pay into the current budget for 2019 and 2020, whether or not it remains in the single market. By staying in for a transition period, Britain could deduct that 20 billion euro payment from the one-off, pre-Brexit divorce settlement.
May will meet Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, over lunch in London on Tuesday and then the 27 leaders at dinner in Estonia on Thursday, just after talks wind up in Brussels.
The Europeans insist they will not negotiate with May over Barnier’s head, but this week could be an important moment in determining how quickly they are willing to open trade talks for the future — and, indeed, how far mutual tactics of bluff and counter-bluff may risk ending in chaos without a deal.
Editing by Kevin Liffey