U.K. and EU Point to Each Other in Search of a Brexit Breakthrough

  • Officials in Berlin, Paris say their stance has broad support
  • EU wants May’s Florence speech to be translated into proposals

May Heads to Brussels to Intervene in Brexit Deadlock

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The U.K. and the European Union are each looking for the other side to make the next move at a summit this week, deepening the stalemate in Brexit talks.

Germany and France insist they’re not alone in refusing British pleas to move on to the next stage of talks, as they lay the blame for the impasse with Theresa May’s government. Brexit Secretary David Davis said the U.K. won’t make any more offers until after the meeting on Thursday and Friday, when May will hold a working breakfast with her peers.

“The clock is ticking very fast” the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told reporters in Luxembourg, a day after having dinner with May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. “I have said we are ready to accelerate the rhythm, but to accelerate you need two.”

Davis -- who has gone through five rounds of talks with Barnier only to hit an impasse -- dangled the prospect of more but not until after the much anticipated summit. “We have yet to hear the council conclusions on Friday. Let’s wait and see what they are before we make the next move.”

Officials in Berlin and Paris -- home to the dominant economies in the region -- said their stance in negotiations is no tougher than that of others.

Even though the bloc’s positions have been unanimously agreed, there is concern in the German government that some countries are hiding behind Germany as the stalemate persists, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named.

Read more: EU Is Said to Seek a Road Map for Future U.K. Deal by December

French officials said that they are not willing to engage in a technical negotiation with May’s government, as that is the job of Barnier, whose mandate envisages a clear sequencing of the talks and shouldn’t be fragmented. The U.K. want his mandate changed to allow discussions at least on the transition arrangement that its businesses are calling for.

A statement from the EU’s 27 states on Friday will conclude that “sufficient progress” hasn’t been made in separation talks to allow for trade negotiations to begin. The wording in the latest draft is tougher than a previous iteration, as it includes an explicit reference to the role of the European Court of Justice -- a red line for May. It also deletes a phrase that the EU should be “fully ready” for a start in trade negotiations in December.

While an official involved in the negotiations said on Friday that the communique’s language would be tightened at the request of Germany and France, the officials in Berlin and Paris said that there’s full consensus among the 27 about the current state of Brexit talks. The French officials also cited Barnier’s assessment that not enough progress has been made.

Irish Hand

In another development, Ireland, seen as an ally of the U.K. over Brexit, is also hardening its stance. It’s considering pushing for a guarantee that no border will be reimposed on the island of Ireland as its price for allowing Brexit trade talks to start, according to three people familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, U.K. officials are growing increasingly frustrated by the refusal of the EU to budge, increasing the prospect of a messy breakdown in talks. May is seen as having gone out on a limb by promising to pay into the EU budget and settle the divorce bill and now needs something in return before she can make further concessions.

Weakened by an election debacle in June, May is struggling to keep her Cabinet on message, and needs to navigate a middle path between the pro-Brexit camp that includes Boris Johnson and her Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who channels the voice of business.

Johnson, whose meddling on Brexit has made trouble for May, famously said the EU could “go whistle” if it expects the U.K. to pay a divorce bill. Questioned about it in Parliament on Tuesday he defied the opposition to willingly accept a once-touted figure of 100 billion euros ($117 billion).

The EU has asked the U.K. to table concrete proposals, elaborating on the concessions May signaled in her speech in Florence last month. But Britain has refused to do so, the German officials said.

The view in Berlin is that May’s government is maneuvering at the moment, which means that there’s no reason for the EU to offer concessions, the officials said.

“Theresa May has to come up with decent proposals,” Michael Fuchs, deputy leader of Merkel’s CDU party, told the BBC on Tuesday, emphasizing the EU’s line. “Whatever she is offering, Boris Johnson is saying it’s too much.”

— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras, and Ian Wishart

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