Davis/Barnier press conference after fifth round of talks.

(Given the recent Brexit developments, including the European Council summit and Theresa May’s Brussels dinner, I thought to share a summary of the last Brexit talks’ presser.)

Speaking after four days of negotiations, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, said the EU and the UK are in “deadlock” over the UK’s financial commitments, but progress could be made by Christmas.

Mr Barnier said the EU and the UK share the same objectives: protecting rights of EU citizens, safeguarding the peace process in Northern Ireland and getting a financial settlement.

Regarding citizens’ rights, he said there were two common aims: ensuring the withdrawal agreement has direct effect, and ensuring the interpretation of these rights is “consistent” between the EU and the UK. Both sides were working on this, and it would involve the European Court of Justice.

On the issue of the island of Ireland, Mr Barnier said the EU and the UK reached an agreement on the Common Travel Area (CTA). “Intensive work” had been taken on the Irish question, with more work to come. Both sides were examining North/South co-operation.

Mr Barnier said that on the issue of the UK’s financial commitments, both sides had reached “deadlock” which he described as “very disturbing”. With the UK still not ready to outline its commitments, he added this meant not enough progress had been made in the negotiations. Concluding his remarks, Mr Barnier said with political will, “decisive progress is within our grasp over the next two months”.

Following the EU’s Chief Negotiator, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, said whilst there was still a lot of work to do, they have come a long way.

On citizens’ rights, they focused on ensuring how rights could be guaranteed in a fair way. The UK and the EU had not yet reached an agreement on how to enforce these rights, but various options were being examined and both sides were confident a deal would be reached.

Mr Davis said that with regards to the Irish question, more work was required but further progress had been made. Both sides have agreed to start working on common undertakings to protect the Good Friday agreement.

On the financial settlement, Mr Davis said that would be a “political issue”. Concluding his remarks, he stressed that both sides must discuss the future relationship, and expressed a hope that the European Council will allow Mr Barnier to let talks progress to discussing a future trade relationship.

Further talks over the next two months have been agreed.

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Brexit, Borders, and lack of progress – news round-up.

Brexit negotiations: round four

Brexit: Fresh round of negotiations to take place [BBC News]

Brexit: Davis sees ‘no excuse for standing in way of progress’ [BBC News] The fourth round of Brexit negotiations commenced this week. This was the first opportunity for the EU delegation to respond to Theresa May’s recent speech in Florence.

As talks commenced, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, called for a “moment of clarity” from the UK. Mr Barnier said the process had been going six months and progress on key separation issues was essential. Mr Barnier said he was “keen and eager” for the UK to translate the “constructive” sentiments in Mrs May’s recent Florence speech into firm negotiating positions on issues such as citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial issues, including the UK’s so-called divorce bill.

He issued a reminder that the UK was “six months into the process” and “we are getting closer to the UK’s withdrawal.”

Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, said he hoped for progress on all fronts – but made clear any agreement on financial matters could only be reached in the context of the UK’s future partnership with the EU. He said there were “no excuses for standing in the way of progress”.

About progress…

Brexit: Donald Tusk says not enough progress in talks [BBC News]

Donald Tusk: ‘No sufficient progress yet’ in Brexit talks [POLITICO EU] European Council President Donald Tusk has said not enough progress has been made to move to the next phase of Brexit talks in Brussels. Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Tusk said: “I feel now we will discuss our future relations with the UK once there is so-called sufficient progress. The two sides are working and we will work hard at it. But if you ask me and if today member states ask me, I would say there is no sufficient progress yet. But we will work on it.”

Mr Tusk’s comments come barely a month before the European Council will decide whether sufficient progress has been made to begin trade talks, as the UK wants. If it is determined that ‘sufficient progress’ has not been made, the EU’s negotiators will be directed to continue focusing the negotiations on the issues of citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the Northern Irish border. They will not allowed to move to discussions about a transition period or the future trade relationship sought by the UK.

Northern Ireland and the border: round four

Brexit: Northern Ireland and Irish border on talks agenda [BBC News NI] Northern Ireland and the Irish border were discussed at the Brexit negotiations on Wednesday. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, said UK and EU negotiators will be “crunching through the technical detail” of the Good Friday peace agreement and the Common Travel Area (CTA).

Meanwhile, the view south of the border…

Leo Varadkar: ‘Too early’ to assess Brexit progress [BBC News] Prime Minister Theresa May met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in London for talks on Brexit and Northern Ireland’s political deadlock. During her recent speech in Florence, Mrs May had reiterated the UK’s position that there would be no hard Irish border after Brexit. Although the UK will be leaving both the customs union and the single market, she said that both the UK and EU had “stated explicitly” they would not accept any “physical infrastructure”. Speaking after the talks, Mr Varadkar said he had encouraged Mrs May to be “more specific” about her view of the future UK-Irish relationship. He added that he thought it was too early to determine whether the UK has made sufficient progress during the Brexit negotiations.

News round-up: Brexit, Island of Ireland, and UK responsibility.

Welcome to the Houses of the Oireachtas

There will be a special meeting of the several committees with Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, this morning from 10:30am.

The committees meeting Mr Verhofstadt for engagement are: Joint Committee on European Union Affairs meeting with the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, and the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Further shores

In his address, Mr Verhofstadt reiterated that “the Irish border and all things related are a priority for negotiations” for the EU. The “unique solution” to Brexit issues in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the UK government, which must consider the Good Friday Agreement. He suggested Northern Ireland could continue to be in the customs union and the single market post-Brexit as way to prevent a hard border on the island.

Mr Verhofstadt concluded his address with a lovely Seamus Heaney quote: “believe that a further shore is reachable from here.”

Brexit expedition

Mr Verhofstadt is on the second day of a two-day Brexit fact-finding mission on the island of Ireland. He met Northern Irish political party leaders on Wednesday, and will meet the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on today.

Guy Verhofstadt: UK must find ‘unique’ Irish border solution [Politico EU]

Yesterday, Mr Verhofstadt said the UK had the responsibility to find a “unique solution” to the border issue. He suggested that Northern Ireland could continue to be in the customs union and the single market after Brexit as a way to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – but this was a decision for the UK.

All eyes on Theresa

A special cabinet meeting at Downing Street this morning will give its formal backing to Prime Minister Theresa May’s landmark Brexit speech, which she will deliver in Florence tomorrow.

But remember: devolution revolution

Scottish and Welsh governments set out Brexit bill amendments [BBC News]

This week, Scottish and Welsh governments published proposals for amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones said the Bill is a “power grab” of devolved responsibilities. Writing to the Prime Minister, they said their amendments would allow the bill to “work with, not against, devolution”.

News roundup: delay in talks, a sudden speech – it’s all about Brexit.

Whose Brexit is it, anyway?

Following on from yesterday’s news, Theresa May to deliver Brexit speech in Florence [Politics Home]

Prime Minister Theresa May will make a major speech in Florence on 22 September to set out her vision for the next stages of the Brexit talks. Downing Street said the PM will underline the UK’s wish for a “special partnership” with the EU after Brexit – May to set out post-Brexit ‘partnership’ [BBC News]

The speech will come almost six months to the day after Mrs May invoked Article 50. Little progress has been made, with the next round of Brexit talks have been delayed to provide for this latest intervention. The speech is being made a month before the important EU Council summit on 22 October – when the EU27 leaders will discuss whether “sufficient progress” has been made to start trade talks. The UK needs the EU27 to determine that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made, as without it, no talks on future UK-EU trade deals can commence. However, at the conclusion of August’s round of negotiations, Michel Barnier said no decisive progress had been made. A breakthrough is now needed.

See: Next round of Brexit talks delayed by a week, Government confirms [Politics Home] It has been confirmed that both the EU and the UK have agreed the next round of Brexit talks will take place on 25 September. Negotiators from both sides had been expected to re-start their discussions on 18 September.

Parliamentary Corner:

Conservatives accused of ‘running scared’ after dodging votes on pay cap and tuition fees [Politics Home] The Conservatives have been accused of “running scared” of he UK Parliament after shying away front confronting two Commons votes they were set to lose. No Conservative forced a division following Labour-led debates on the public sector pay cap and tuition fees. This came after it was revealed that the DUP were planning to vote with Labour on both issues, robbing the Conservatives of their working majority.

Labour’s motions passed on Wednesday without being pushed to a vote after it became clear the government had no majority to oppose the call for an end to the public sector pay cap for NHS workers nor the £250 a year increase in student fees.

It is the first example of the DUP breaking with May since they struck a confidence and supply agreement to vote together on crucial legislation after the general election.

The question becomes: might Labour be able to exploit differences between the Conservatives and the DUP in the future in order to inflict future defeats on the Government?

Parliamentary… sovereignty?

Brexit: EU repeal bill wins first Commons vote [BBC News] On Tuesday morning, after two days of debate and around 100 MPs contributing, MPs backed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 326 votes to 290. The Bill’s committee stage will take place when MPs return to Parliament after their party conferences. The Bill will be heard by a Committee of the Whole House, and around eight days have been set aside for the process.

From a NI perspective: all ten DUP MPs supported the Government. Lady Sylvia Hermon (Ind, North Down) supported Labour’s amendment, and voted against the Government.

The UK Government has won one battle, but has the war entire to still fight for. MPs have tabled 29 new clauses and 136 amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Labour’s proposed amendments would deny ministers ‘Henry VIII’ powers, meaning the UK Parliament would have to vote to implement a withdrawal agreement and give some repatriated powers to the devolved assemblies. Those backed by Tories -including Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry – involve transposing the Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, limiting ministers’ powers to amend EU law, and a requirement for the final deal with the EU to be approved by Parliament.

And finally…

The UK Government won its crucial Commons vote on Tuesday night to give the Conservatives a majority on every law-making committee of the parliament, despite not having an overall majority in the House. The Conservatives had to rely on the 10 DUP MPs to ensure the motion was passed.

  • The UK Parliament goes into recess this afternoon, as party conference season gets underway. First up is the Liberal Democrats’ party conference (16th-19th September), followed by the Labour Party (24th-27th September). The Conservatives will gather later (1st-4th October).

Devolution revolution

The Scottish and Welsh devolved governments are teaming up once more. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones previously issued joint statements opposing the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form when it was initially published, criticising its lack of provision for devolving powers to the devolved nations. Now, the two governments have published their respective legislative consent memos on the Bill. The Scottish memo can be read here. The Welsh memo can be read here.

Don’t bother looking for a statement or similar memo from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s devolved government collapsed in January, and has not been functioning since the snap March election.

Today
The public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire opens this morning.

Inquiry Chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick is to make his opening statement at 10.30AM.

News round-up: EU Withdrawal Bill, Northern Ireland, and Parliamentary sovereignty

Parliamentary sovereignty:

Tories’ £1bn DUP deal will need parliament’s approval [Politics Home]

The breaking news today sees a hurdle for the UK Government to pass. The UK Government has had to concede that its confidence and supply agreement with the DUP – which includes £1bn of funding for Northern Ireland – must have Parliamentary authorisation. In response to a letter from Gina Miller, and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain who had challenged the deal’s legality, the Treasury solicitor, confirmed that the offer “will have appropriate parliamentary authorisation” and that as yet “no timetable has been set for the making of such payments”.

Stormont Stalemate addressed:

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s speech to 2017 British Irish Association Conference [NIO] Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, spoke at a recent meeting of the British-Irish Association in Cambridge. He spoke of the need to “see a fully functioning, power sharing devolved government at Stormont”, “need to address legacy issues”, and the “necessity of making a success of Brexit, to which the UK Government is fully committed.” Addressing the current political impasse at Stormont, Mr Brokenshire said “the situation simply is not sustainable and if it is not resolved within a relatively short number of weeks will require greater political decision making from Westminster.” He added that this would have to begin with legislation to provide Northern Ireland with a Budget.

More from the British-Irish Association meeting:

Simon Coveney urges UK to remain in Customs Union [BBC News NI] The Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, urged the UK government to consider remaining in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. He said he found it “difficult to accept” that the option should be ruled out before negotiations on trade have even begun.

Micheál Martin calls for NI to be ‘special economic zone’ [BBC News NI] The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party suggested that Northern Ireland should become part of a “special economic zone” (SEZ). Micheál Martin said Northern Ireland as a SEZ could be recognised by the EU as being “distinct from the rest of the UK in terms of single market and customs union access.”

Parliamentary Corner:

Brexit: Ministers warn of ‘chaos’ if repeal bill rejected [BBC News]

Voting against EU bill means ‘chaotic’ Brexit, claims David Davis [Politics Home]

  • The Commons will hold a special late-night sitting tonight as MPs cast their first votes on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. MPs will debate until midnight, before holding a series of votes on the bill’s second reading. Both sides expect a narrow win for the UK Government, with potential Tory rebels holding fire until the bill’s eight-day committee stage – due to start next month. In a statement issued overnight by the Department for Exiting the European Union, Secretary of State David Davis said those voting against the bill want “a chaotic exit from the European Union.” Labour says it will oppose the bill, claiming it represents a “power grab”.
  • Mr Davis said: “The British people did not vote for confusion and neither should Parliament…Providing certainty and stability in the lead up to our withdrawal is a key priority. Businesses and individuals need reassurance that there will be no unexpected changes to our laws after exit day and that is exactly what the Repeal Bill provides.”
  • The UK Government faces pressure from all sides of the House. MPs on all sides have raised concerns that Ministers are giving themselves too much power through so-called Henry VIII clauses, which allow them to change legislation after it has passed through Parliament.
  • Conservative whips are not the only ones facing a headache this evening/Tuesday morning. Some Labour MPs are hardcore Brexiteers, and will want to support the Withdrawal Bill – which would be in defiance of Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s imposed three-line whip.
  • Mr Corbyn’s authority might also face another challenge over the Bill. The question remains if any of the MPs from Brexit-supporting constituencies who, worried by Labour’s new-found ‘soft’ Brexit and the reaction to it from Labour-voting Brexiteers, might abstain on the vote.
  • The Commons will also vote to approve nominations for Select Committee membership today. The real drama re Committee membership is yet to come: the Committee of Selection’s membership approval vote takes place on Tuesday. The Conservative Government is facing accusations it is attempting a ‘power grab’.

EU corner

This week is about European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech, on Wednesday 13th September.

The Committee on Constitutional Affairs in the European Parliament will today discuss proposals to reduce the number of MEPs to 700 after the next election, keeping the remaining 51 in reserve for a possible pan-EU list of MEPs.

Publication on EU Brexit position paper on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The European Commission today published its Brexit position paper on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The ‘Guiding principles transmitted to EU27 for the Dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland‘ paper contains the guiding principles of the EU position on the issue of Ireland/Northern Ireland post-Brexit and is to be presented to the UK in the context of the dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

Notably, the EU is taking the position that the responsibility to devise the flexible and imaginative solutions necessary to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland rests with the UK Government. There is a strong emphasis on the GFA, and maintaining the Peace Process.

Emphasising the ‘unique circumstances’ of Northern Ireland, the paper does not suggest solutions for the Irish border. It notes that the onus to propose solutions which’ overcome the challenges created on the island of Ireland by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and its decision to leave the customs union and the internal market remains on the UK.’

The paper outlines:

  • that as an essential element of the withdrawal process, there needs to be a political commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, to protecting the gains of the peace process, and to the practical application of this on the island of Ireland,
  • ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ are required which must respect the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland, and avoid the imposition of a hard border,
  • North South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a central part of the Good Friday Agreement and should be protected,
  • the UK should ensure that no diminution of rights is caused by the its departure from the EU,
  • the Withdrawal Agreement should respect rights, opportunities and identity that come with EU citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland who choose to assert their right to Irish citizenship,
  • that the continued operation of the Common Travel Area is fundamental to facilitating the interaction of people in Ireland and the UK and should be recognised, and
  • the EU has supported the Peace Process through  PEACE, INTERREG etc. Therefore the UK and the EU need to honour their commitments under the current Multi-annual Financial Framework.

Barnier/Davis press conference after first substantial round of Brexit talks.

Speaking after four days of negotiations, the Chief Negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, today said there had been some areas of agreement about how British citizens living abroad and EU nationals living in the UK should be treated after Brexit. However, he said the EU believes citizens’ rights should be backed by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Mr Barnier said a clarification of the UK’s position on settling its outstanding debts to the EU when it leaves was also needed.

He said: “A clarification of the UK position is indispensable for us to negotiate and for us to make sufficient progress on this financial dossier, which is inseparable from the other withdrawal dossiers…We know that agreement will not be achieved through incremental steps. As soon as the UK is ready to clarify the nature of its commitments, we will be prepared to discuss this with the British negotiators.”

On the pressing issue of the island of Ireland, there was a first discussion on the impact of Brexit on two key subjects: the Good Friday Agreement and the Common Travel Area. Mr Barnier said there was agreement that the Good Friday Agreement, “in all its dimensions, requires more detailed discussions.” In particular, “more work needs to be done to protect North-South cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

There was also agreement that the UK should clarify in the next session how it intends on maintaining the Common Travel Area after leaving the EU.

Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, said talks had been “robust” but there was a lot to be “positive” about in terms of the overall negotiations.

The takeaway: there was scant evidence of progress in a press conference to mark the end of the first substantive round of Brexit talks. Both sides looked – and sounded- as far apart as ever on key issues, most particularly on EU citizens’ rights and the divorce bill. Michel Barnier said there was a “fundamental divergence” with the British negotiating team over the way that the rights of EU citizens in the UK would be guaranteed, adding that he needed clarity on the UK’s position on the Brexit bill. Brexit However, David Davis said “We shouldn’t expect incremental progress in every round [of talks].”

Three rounds of Brexit talks were scheduled in June: for August, September, and October. There will be an EU summit in late October, where EU leaders will decide on whether the UK has made sufficient progress on financial issues – the so-called ‘divorce bill’. Only then can the UK progress to trade talks with the EU.

The press conference came today after Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, confirmed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will be debated in the Commons on Thursday 7th and Monday 11th September.

The UK Parliament is now in recess, and will return on 5th September.