- The EU and UK negotiating teams met this week for the first full round of discussions on the UK’s exit from the EU. In their opening meeting on June 19, both sides agreed on the structure the discussions would take- technical working groups were established to tackle the main issues including citizen’s right, the UK’s financial settlement and border issues, particularly relating to Northern Ireland, as well as a number of subgroups on matters such as police cooperation, market uncertainty and pending legal proceedings. These groups will meet for one week each month, to negotiate on their respective subject, in conjunction with high-level meetings of the two lead negotiators, Michael Barnier for the EU and David Davis for the UK.
- In order to provide transparency into these discussions, in the last number of weeks the Commission has published its negotiating positions on its website and intends to continue to do so as the negotiations progress: https://goo.gl/nLx81y The UK, in turn, has also published its positions relating to some of the topics, including citizen’s rights: https://goo.gl/zX2S7k
- Concluding the week long negotiations today, Michael Barnier and David Davis said progress had been made in talks in terms of defining where both sides were in agreement and where opinions diverge on the main topics. However Barnier stressed that this was only possible to a limited extent, due to a lack of clarity on the UK’s position. He called on the UK government to be ready to provide this clarify when they meet again at the end of August.
In a meeting with leaders of the remaining EU 27 Members States on June 22, British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined the UK’s position on safeguarding the rights of the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK, once the UK leave the Union. However the proposal was met with scepticism and concern from both EU leaders and MEPs, who perceive the proposal as diminishing the rights which are currently held by EU citizen’s- such as their right to participate and vote in local elections and for family members to reunite. European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, described the offer as a “first step” but not sufficient. Referring to their discussions on the matter this week, Barnier stated that they were able to make considerable progress in terms of comparing the UK’s position with the EU’s proposal and highlight the many areas which they have in common and are “able to move forward in the common direction”. However the main point of contention, is the issue of how these rights will be guaranteed in future- with the EU insisting that the European Court of Justice is the only court legally able to interpret EU law and therefore must in future have jurisdiction in terms of maintaining citizens’ rights- something Theresa May has ruled out. Barnier noted that the next round of discussions will focus on this issue.
The Commission has begun negotiations without an exact figure for what it expects of the UK’s financial settlement when it leaves the Union, however within its negotiating position paper it has established a method of calculating the bill, based on the UK’s share of the common EU budget up to 2020, as well as other commitments to long term EU projects- which would equal a minimum of €65bn. While in recent weeks, UK officials, including David Davis, have acknowledged that they have financial obligations to the EU, they failed to present their own estimate at the negotiation round this week. Instead the talks were limited to the EU providing a detailed legal analysis of its own calculation. Speaking today, Barnier made it known that he was unwilling to continue with this approach, stating “As soon as the United Kingdom is prepared to clarify the nature of its commitments we will be prepared to discuss this with the British negotiators”.
Border Issues & Northern Ireland
Unlike the discussions on the UK’s financial settlement, both sides appear to have a similar starting point when it comes to the negotiations regarding Northern Ireland, stating many times over the course of the last year, their desire to find a creative solution to achieve a frictionless border and avoiding jeopardising the peace process. Due to the political sensitives involved, both sides decided to entrust the technical working group negotiations to the highest ranking officials, Sabine Weyand for the Commission and Oliver Robbins from the UK government. This week’s discussions concentrated on the impact of Brexit on the Common Travel Area and the Good Friday Agreement, particularly on the rights that it provides regarding citizenship and peace programmes. Following the discussions Barnier again stated that in order for progress to be made the UK needed to clarify how it intends to maintain the Common Travel Area after it leaves the EU, while pursuing alternative rules on visas and immigration in the rest of the UK. He stated that the subsequent rounds of negotiations would look at how to maintain the North-South cooperation provided for in the Good Friday Agreement and currently embedded in EU law.
While not officially on the agenda, there have been some reports that in their high-level meeting at the beginning of the week, Barnier and Davis broached the issue of trade and how to split the EU and UK trade import and export schedule at the World Trade Organisation. According to the media outlet POLITICO, they aim to agree on a joint proposal by the end of the negotiations, which they will then present to the 164 other WTO member countries for approval. The EU is said to prefer an arrangement whereby it would reduce its import quota (by an amount corresponding to the UK’s current share of third country imports) and the UK would negotiate a new quota.
28 May 2021