BRUSSELS >> The European Union ramped up pressure on Britain at a new round of Brexit talks today as it ruled out broadening the negotiations any time soon and warned that time is running out for Prime Minister Theresa May to clinch a deal.
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was “keen and eager” to hear how his British counterparts would translate May’s Brexit speech last week into concrete proposals. But he said he had no mandate to discuss the two-year transition period that May has proposed to help ease Britain out of the EU.
“What counts now is that the government of the United Kingdom translates the entirety of the declarations of Theresa May into precise negotiating positions,” Barnier, a former French government minister, told reporters. “It’s time for clarity.”
On the proposed transition period, he said: “This point is not in my mandate at the moment.” Barnier also warned that EU rules would apply if he is told to negotiate a phase-in period for after Britain’s split becomes official in March 2019.
“The Union must decide whether this transition period is in its interests,” Barnier said, suggesting that more delays are likely as EU leaders would have to decide when and how Barnier should handle any discussion of the issue.
EU leaders are scheduled to meet Oct. 19-20 to assess whether Britain has made “sufficient progress” on the terms of the divorce arrangements for negotiations to move on to its future relations and trade with the bloc.
Britain says all issues are intertwined and should be discussed together.
“The U.K. will honor commitments we have made during the period of our membership, but it is obvious that reaching a conclusion on this issue can only be done in the context of an in accordance with a new deep and special partnership with the European Union,” British negotiator David Davis said, as four days of talks got underway.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but any deal must be sealed by October 2018 to leave time for parliaments to endorse it.
The Europeans are pessimistic about expanding the talks as little headway has been made on the key issues of Britain’s financial settlement, the status of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.
Estonian deputy EU affairs minister Matti Maasikas, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, also warned that time is running out.
“There has been some progress in the negotiations, but clear divergences remain in all the key issues,” Maasikas said after chairing talks between European affairs and foreign ministers that Barnier attended today. “There is a lot of work to do, and time is of the essence.”