quarta-feira, 12 de julho de 2017

EU says Brexit talks could fail after Johnson's 'go whistle' remarks / Michel Barnier: 'I am not hearing any whistling, just a clock ticking' – video / Boris Johnson: European leaders can ‘go whistle’ over EU divorce bill – ...

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels to preview the next round of Brexit talks, EU negotiator Michel Barnier responds to Boris Johnson’s comments to the House of Commons on Tuesday

EU says Brexit talks could fail after Johnson's 'go whistle' remarks
Michel Barnier says so-called ‘divorce bill’ is indivisible from other parts of negotiation and payment is a matter of trust

Dan Roberts in Brussels and Henry McDonald
Wednesday 12 July 2017 17.48 BST First published on Wednesday 12 July 2017 12.34 BST

The European Union has said the Brexit talks could be derailed by an escalating fight over money as it fired back at Boris Johnson for telling the EU leaders to “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay a divorce bill for withdrawing from the bloc.

“I am not hearing any whistling, just a clock ticking,” said the EU negotiator Michel Barnier at a press conference in Brussels to preview the next round of talks, due to begin on Monday.

His London counterpart, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has not yet presented a formal UK position on the scale of any financial settlement when Britain leaves, which some estimates have suggested could be as a high as €100bn.

But EU officials are adamant that failure to at least acknowledge the principle of ongoing budget obligations would prevent talks from proceeding at all and not allow any discussion of future relationship issues such as a free trade deal.

“The three priorities for the first phase are indivisible,” said Barnier, referring to the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and other separation issues such as the Northern Irish border. “Progress on one or two would not be sufficient in order for us to move on to the discussion of our future relationship.”

In some of the most strident exchanges of the Brexit process so far, Barnier said the issue was not simply a technical sequencing matter but went to the heart of whether the two sides could trust each other.

“How do you build a relationship based on trade, security … which is going to last, with a country with which you don’t have trust?” implored the French diplomat. “I am saying this from the bottom of my heart, I want us to build that relationship.”

Questioned in the House of Commons on Tuesday about whether Brussels should be told to “go whistle” for the money – a dismissive suggestion that its demands are futile – Johnson, the foreign secretary, replied: “I think that the sums that I have seen ... seem to me to be extortionate and I think ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression.”

“People have used words like ransom,” added Barnier. “It’s not an exit bill, it’s not a punishment, it’s not a revenge, it’s simply settling accounts. It’s not easy and it might be expensive, but we are not asking for a single pound or euro more than they have legally agreed to provide. You can discuss this or that budget line, but they have to start by recognising that they have entered into commitments.”

But money is not the only issue that is threatening to derail the first phase of talks when Barnier and Davis regroup on Monday.

Earlier, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, revealed that MEPs would also seek a say on whether sufficient progress had been made over Britain’s offer on citizens’ rights.

The parliament is demanding that the UK match existing rights enjoyed by EU citizens living in Britain and say its alternative suggestion of a new “settled status” system would be bureaucratic and unsettling.

“We find that the proposal by the UK is absolutely not what we need,” Verhofstadt told the parliament’s committee on constitutional affairs. “It falls short in respecting the rights that EU nationals have on family reunification, rights to participate in local elections and falls short on simplicity … it creates second-class citizenship for EU nationals.”

Verhofstadt has already threatened to veto the final Brexit deal if citizens’ rights are not maintained but on Wednesday he opened a new front that could complicate efforts by Davis and Barnier to at least reach a temporary compromise on this opening issue.

“In October, the parliament will do an assessment to see if enough progress has been made to go into the second stage,” the Belgian liberal MEP told the committee. “The role of parliament is to scrutinise before the council has taken a decision.”

Domestic political pressure on Davis is also likely to intensify when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones all arrive in Brussels for separate, private, talks with Barnier.

The EU’s chief negotiator said it was important he heard from the “differing points of view in the British debate” but insisted he would only negotiate officially with Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary.

Verhofstad also suggested that after the UK exits the EU those with Irish passports in Northern Ireland should be allowed to vote in European elections across the border.

Verhofstad said the number of European seats could be increased from the current 11 to allow for Northern Irish voters to still exercise some influence in the EU as part of any post-Brexit deal.

The Democratic Unionists in turn said it would use its parliamentary muscle to force the government to block any moves allowing for Northern Ireland voters to elect MEPs in the Irish Republic.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Guardian there was “no chance” his party would accept such an arrangement after Brexit.

Donaldson said the 10 DUP MPs at Westminster who currently shore up the minority Conservative government would insist to the prime minister that Verhostad’s proposal be rejected out of hand in Brexit negotiations.

“His idea would be a breach of the Good Friday agreement which keeps all constitutional change within strand one of that agreement, namely only within Northern Ireland.

“This idea would also upset the delicate constitutional balance we have worked out here and would endanger the peace process,” the Lagan Valley MP added.

Five examples of Britain's 'chocolate orange' Brexit strategy
UK’s public spending watchdog has criticised fragmented approach that could ‘fall apart at the first tap’
Dan Roberts in Brussels

Thursday 13 July 2017 00.01 BST Last modified on Thursday 13 July 2017 00.50 BST
Evidence of the fragmented approach to the government’s Brexit strategy has been growing since the election, with separate departments forging their own responses to an apparent policy vacuum at the heart of government. Now the head of the UK’s public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, has issued a remarkable criticism of the government on the subject. Amyas Morse said that he had seen no ministerial plan to push through the necessary legal and statutory changes for the UK to leave the EU. “We have an issue there because we have departmental government,” he said. “What we don’t want to find is that at the first tap it falls apart like a chocolate orange.” Here are five recent examples of the problem:

Drugs letter

Perhaps the starkest freelance venture came when the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the business secretary, Greg Clark, took it upon themselves to write to the Financial Times to reassure the pharmaceutical industry that Britain would continue to collaborate with the EU medicines agency. One senior official claims this took place without prior consultation with Olly Robbins, the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU, even though such a promise potentially sets a huge precedent for other industries seeking regulatory continuity. DExEU is meant to coordinate Brexit policy, but insiders say that since the departure of Downing Street enforcer Fiona Hill there has been no one to stop ministers speaking out independently.

Boris whistling
It is not just those ministers favouring a softer Brexit who have been taking advantage of the paralysis. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, once more caused red faces across Whitehall this week when he suggested in parliament that the EU should “go whistle” if it wants a divorce settlement from Britain. It placed DExEU in a particularly awkward spot, as the Brexit secretary, David Davis, has been dropping hints ahead of next week’s talks that he concedes the need for some sort of financial obligation. The more Johnson stamps around in hobnail boots, the harder it will be for Davis both to prove that Britain is serious in Brussels and to sell the eventual climbdown to backbenchers.

Brussels embassy
As the talks resume in Brussels next week, more and more strain will be placed on the relationship between Britain’s permanent representatives to the EU, who are the supposed experts, and the DExEU officials, based at 9 Downing Street, who are closer to the prime minister. Efforts to rebuild morale after the forced departure of the UK ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, were dealt a blow this week by claims that his successor, Tim Barrow, has not permanently moved to Belgium yet and struggles against officials like Robbins to make his voice heard with Theresa May and Davis.

Chevening summit
There are signs that the election drubbing has forced the government to listen more carefully to other voices on Brexit. But a decision by DExEU to invite business leaders to a summit with officials from the business department and Treasury was seen by many as too little, too late. While the chancellor, Philip Hammond (who was in Germany for the G20), welcomed a demand by the CBI for a delay to leaving the single market in a long transition phase, some business leaders at the Chevening retreat reported that Davis was cooler on the idea, leaving everyone more confused afterwards than before.

Treasury lobbying

The tension between Hammond and Brexiters like Davis is on display almost every day now, even though the Brexit secretary insists there is “not a cigarette paper” between them. As well as his remarks in Hamburg, the chancellor also used another speech in Germany to ridicule Boris Johnson’s infamous “have cake, eat cake” strategy. Whether the differences reflect lack of coordination or a deliberate strategy of open political warfare matters little to business leaders and EU negotiators, who say they are left baffled as to what the government’s official Brexit strategy amounts to.

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