Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit Secretary David Davis were expected to brief reporters on Thursday about the outcome of the second round of Brexit negotiations, which began in Brussels on Monday.
Members of the UK’s 98-strong negotiation team and the EU’s 40-official task force used words such as “constructive”, “polite” and “a good start” for the talks but said the two sides remain profoundly divided over a range of issues, Reuters reported Wednesday.
The EU has demanded an early agreement on three issues before proceeding to future ties with the UK: the rights of EU nationals living in the UK; the UK’s “exit” payment to the EU; and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Davis has agreed to the EU’s agenda for the talks, marking a stark retreat from one of the UK’s core demands. London had called for parallel talks on both aspects of the divorce.
The officials said the two sides had strong disagreement over the so-called “divorce bill” as well as the future of EU courts after Brexit.
The UK has repeatedly dismissed the EU’s calls to pay a settlement sum of around £60 billion before sitting at the negotiating table.
While the government of British Prime Minister Theresa May reaffirmed in a statement last week that financial obligations would be discussed in the talks, some of her ministers made it clear that it would the EU owing Britain money after Brexit.
EU might halt talks
EU officials say the bloc might temporarily halt the negotiations “because the UK is not ready” to address the financial issues, Politico reported Tuesday.
“Financial settlement is the priority,” one EU diplomat told the news website. “The EU will not walk away from talks but will stall them. The impression we got so far is that the UK is not ready for these talks.”
The UK has sent more mixed messages regarding the payment earlier this month, when Junior Brexit minister Steve Baker said his country will not pay the EU “a penny more than we need to.”
“It is reasonable to expect the Brits to say something other than ‘we will not pay a penny.’ If that’s not the case, what is there to talk about?” another EU official told Politico.