European Commission chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said there has been no “decisive progress” on key issues during talks with the UK and the two sides are still “quite far” away from being in a position to begin discussions on future trade arrangements.
Mr Barnier acknowledged there had been some “fruitful” discussions on the issues surrounding the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Ulster, but he struck a pessimistic tone overall following the latest round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels.
At a joint press conference with Brexit Secretary David Davis, Mr Barnier said: “We did not get any decisive progress on any of the principal subjects.”
The UK wants to begin trade talks as soon as possible, but Brussels insists that discussions about the future relationship after Brexit can only begin once “sufficient progress” has been made on the arrangements for withdrawal - including on the so-called “divorce fee”.
Mr Barnier said: “At the current state of progress we are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to be able to recommend to the European Council that it engage in discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU at the same time as we would, during the course of 2018, go on working on finalising the exit and withdrawal agreement.”
But Mr Davis said there had been “some concrete progress”, telling the conference: “This week we have had long and detailed discussions across multiple areas and I think it’s fair to say we have seen some concrete progress, and Michel referred to one but there’s more than that.
“However, as I said at the start of the week, it’s only through flexibility and imagination that we will achieve a deal that works truly for both sides.
“In some areas we have found this from the Commission’s side, which I welcome, but there remains some way to go.”