Michael Barnier and David Davis wrapped up their third round of talks today. On previous occasions, they tended to strike cautiously optimistic tones, with the worst criticism the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator could make would be that he wanted more detail from the British. The Frenchman was grateful for the “useful clarifications” over the last few days, but that did not mean he was any happier with Britain.
There had been “no decisive progress on the principal subjects”, Monsieur Barnier declared, insisting to one reporter that he was “not angry [but] determined” and had “shown the typical calm of a mountaineer” (he hails from the mountainous region of Savoie). He lashed out at the British government, accusing it of being “nostalgic” over its wish to leave the single market for benefits of EU membership such as being in the single market. “I wouldn’t confuse a belief in the free market for nostalgia,” the Brexit secretary brusquely replied. We have more details from their frosty press conference here. The pair’s performance today leads our Europe editor Peter Foster to conclude, among other things, that trade will only come onto the agenda in November or December rather than – as both sides originally hoped for – October. “Given the levels of frustration, and sometimes naked animosity on boths sides the risks of a mutually destructive outcome remain,” he warns.
The last few days have seen the British put their European counterparts’ claims under close scrutiny, culminating in them launching a painstaking, line-by-line rebuttal of the EU’s demands for a €100bn divorce settlement – to the barely concealed fury of the bloc’s negotiators. That might be why, I suggest online, Monsieur Barnier seemed so irked. He urged both sides to address the issues “seriously and rigorously”, so Brexiteers would feel now that he needs to practise what he preaches.
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