Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) The third round of the Brexit talks are under way. There are signs of frayed nerves as the sparring between the two parties continues.

French officials from the Elysée Palace were forced to deny a report in The Daily Telegraph that claimed France would be willing to begin trade talks with the UK as early as October, despite EU concerns that ‘sufficient progress’ on withdrawal issues may not be achieved by this point. The source said the claims were ‘not based on anything and don’t correspond to any reality…France fully supports, both in content and method, Michel Barnier’s negotiation mandate.’          The leak came from the French Foreign Ministry and the denial from the Elysée, which may indicate divisions within the Macron administration.

Immediately prior to the talks, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier made some curious remarks in an article in the French newspaper Le Monde. He said Brexit ‘will have very practical consequences including on defense and security’. The article was published on Monday, as UK and EU teams meet in Brussels for four days of divorce talks. ‘The British defense minister will no longer be able to sit at the council of defense ministers, London will leave the European Defense Agency and Europol,’ the EU-wide police force, Barnier said.

The idea that just because the UK is not in the EU that it cannot work closely with the EU on defense and security matters is manifestly absurd. EU diplomats and high officials live permanently in the pockets of their non-EU American colleagues and of course relations with NATO, of which Britain will remain an important member, are intimate.

The start of the talks has been marked by a campaign from the EU suggesting the UK is not getting on with the negotiations as it should. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced ‘I have read with all necessary attention all the position papers drawn up by the UK government but none of them really give me satisfaction, so there is an enormous amount of questions that need to be resolved.’

Speaking at the opening of the negotiations yesterday, Michel Barnier said, ‘I’m concerned. Time passes quickly…We need UK positions on all separation issues. This is necessary to make sufficient progress. We must start negotiating seriously.’ He added, ‘We need UK papers that are clear in order to have constructive negotiations, and the sooner we remove the ambiguity, the sooner we will be in a position to discuss the future relationship and a transitional period.’

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis replied, ‘We want to lock in the points where we agree, unpick the areas where we disagree, and make further progress on the whole range of issues. But in order to do that we require flexibility and imagination from both sides, like the European Council asked for on some subjects.’

As with all divorces the key issues are simple and it is all about money. What is difficult is agreeing on who pays and how much. The EU wants the biggest lump sum possible agreed before revealing what sort of trade deal it will agree to. The British naturally are not keen to agree on a lump sum without knowing what the deal is going to be. Both sides are playing the clock and letting pressure build up. The British government is in a difficulty because of the weak support in parliament for any really tough negotiating. So, walking away from Europe without an agreement simply relying on World Trade Organization rules for protection is not such a credible threat. On the other hand, the EU is under a lot of pressure from business not to unnecessarily disrupt relations with the very profitable UK market. The Brussels Commission, for obvious reasons, also seeks to avoid giving the impression that leaving the EU is a simple matter.

The Brexit negotiating period began on 29 March 2017 when the United Kingdom served the withdrawal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The period for negotiation stated in Article 50 is two years from notification, unless an extension is agreed.

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