The European Union and Britain offered few compromises at their first full round of Brexit talks which ended on Thursday, and the pound fell on worries that British ministers were prepared to walk away without a deal.
While negotiators laid out their disagreements in Brussels, Prime Minister Theresa May met company bosses at home, with one employers’ group saying her government needed to engage in “sustained and structured” discussions with business over Brexit and avoid an abrupt departure from the bloc. Separately, academics warned of “widespread, damaging and pervasive” costs if Britain failed to reach at least a transitional trade deal with the EU before its scheduled departure from the bloc less than two years from now. At the European Commission, the negotiators laid out their opening positions in four days of talks that showed some common ground. But they also confirmed differences over how to protect the future of expatriate citizens, while uncertainty persisted over a financial settlement and the future of the Irish border, which will become an external frontier for the EU in 2019.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said there was “a fundamental divergence” on how to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and of Britons in the remaining 27 EU countries after Brexit. He said European courts should guarantee citizens’ rights after Brexit. “Any reference to European rights imply their oversight by the Court of Justice of the European Union,” he told a joint news conference with British Brexit Secretary David Davis. Britain, however, says people voted in last year’s Brexit referendum to end shared EU sovereignty, and its judges should therefore have jurisdiction.
Davis said the meetings in Brussels had provided “a lot to be positive about”. But when asked if Britain would accept the principle of a net payment from London to Brussels – and not vice versa as some British ministers have suggested – he gave no direct answer. Barnier called on Britain to clarify at the next round of talks in August how it would maintain a common travel area with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU.
Both sides have said they want to avoid reimposition of border controls between the republic and British-ruled Northern Ireland. However, so far neither has proposed a solution to an issue that remains sensitive almost two decades after a peace deal ended years of violence in the province.
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