UK and EU ‘willing to compromise’

The EU and UK agreed on some areas concerning citizens' rights this week

Britain and the EU have agreed there needs to be compromise and flexibility if they are to come to an agreement over Brexit – but the EU are insisting the UK first be clearer over what it will pay for in its ‘exit bill’.

On ‘citizens’ rights’, EU negotiator Michel Barnier – who spoke largely in French throughout - told journalists at a press conference that the UK’s recent publication of a position paper on rights had allowed them to identify those areas where they agree or disagree.

He was speaking at the end of this week’s negotiations, which were the first substantial ones after a one-day meeting last month about the order of how the talks will proceed.

“We are now moving forward in the same direction,” Mr Barnier said, however he added there remained a fundamental difference of opinion over how to guarantee the rights.

The EU thinks that the European Court of Justice should have continuing jurisdiction over ensuring that what is agreed on citizens’ rights is respected in future, Mr Barnier said (Britain disagrees, considering that the UK courts can do the job).

Mr Barnier said: “To be frank, we don’t see any other way of guaranteeing the permanence of the European rights that citizens are making use of – any reference to EU law implies it being able to be policed by the ECJ.”

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One sticking point here is the EU’s insistence that existing EU rights be maintained for EU27 expats in the UK, whereas the UK’s approach involves listing specific rights that would be maintained as part of a new ‘settled status’ it wants to offer under UK law.

Mr Barnier said several other points of disagreement that arose this week included rights of ‘future family members’ and the exportability of certain social security benefits.

In the next round of negotiations, next month, he said they would try to clarify the reasons for the differences in opinion, bearing in mind the common objective of enabling people to continue living their lives as before.

“We progress the best when our respective positions are clear,” he said.

On the ‘bill’, Mr Barnier said the UK has agreed it will have money to pay, however he said while the EU has listed all the areas the bill should cover, and explained the legal basis for them this week, the UK must clarify its position further.

He said this is now necessary for ‘sufficient progress’ to be obtained to move forward with the other matters.

“We want, and are working towards, an orderly exit for the UK as they have decided on, but an orderly exit demands that the accounts be settled,” he said.

Asked about concessions that EU might be willing to make, Mr Barnier said “I know perfectly well that there have to be concessions in a negotiation, but we’re not at that stage yet.”

Clarification on the contents of the bill was the essential first step, he said.

UK negotiator David Davis said the talks, which were largely carried out by an army of civil servants (the UK team included 98 people), were “constructive” and “encouraging”.

He said they had demonstrated that the UK’s offer on citizen’s rights was “fair and serious”.

“We have looked at each other’s proposals in depth and identified many concrete areas where we agree,” he said. “There were others where there must be further discussion, which will be a priority for the next round.”

He said they would now publish a paper giving more detail of this.

In addition to the issues mentioned by Mr Barnier, ones requiring further discussion included voters’ rights and posted workers, he said.

“We agreed on the need for certainty on the part of citizens both the EU and the UK; we obviously have different views on how we achieve that,” he said.

On the financial settlement, the talks this week were “robust but constructive” and an agreement would need “flexibility on both sides”.

Overall, Mr Davis said the talks “have given us a lot to be positive about”.

“I came here saying that it was important that we now made progress, identifying the differences so we could deal with them, and finding the similarities so we could reinforce them. And this week, I think we have done just that.”

Mr Davis also told journalists that Britain would “make it work” if it had to leave with no deal because of being presented with a “punishment deal”, but he added: “Nobody expects a punishment deal – Michel and I are both going for a good deal.”

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