Brexit is no game, says Barnier when asked if ball is in his court

Brexit is not a game,” the EU’s chief negotiator has said, as he emerged from a lunch with the UK’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, in Brussels on the second day of the fifth round of negotiations.

Michel Barnier was responding to a question that referred to Theresa May’s claim that the ball is now in the EU’s court on Brexit.

“Lunch was good and we had constructive talks, not the first time or the last time,” Barnier told reporters outside the residence of the UK’s permanent representative in Brussels.

When asked whether progress was being made on the opening withdrawal issues, and if “the ball [is] in your court”, Barnier responded: “We are working. Brexit is not a game. Don’t forget it.”

May had made her tennis analogy in a statement to MPs on Monday, when she suggested it was up to Brussels to make the next move following a series of concessions by the British.

The Danish finance minister, Kristian Jensen, has also said the row over the Brexit bill is part of a game. “In any political negotiations, there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that. This is part of the game,” he said in a Guardian interview.

His comments were dismissed by the European commission, and there appears little sign that the EU is preparing to move the talks on from the opening withdrawal issues.

The EU27’s negotiating guidelines for the two-year Brexit talks stipulate that they must take place in two phases: separation and “orderly withdrawal”, followed by future relationship. Only when the EU27 decide “sufficient progress” has been made on phase one can phase two begin.

Broadly, phase one is about providing “clarity and certainty” to people and businesses on Brexit’s consequences and agreeing a sum covering the commitments the UK made as an EU member: avoiding a legal vacuum, protecting citizens’ rights, solving the Irish border, and reaching a financial settlement.

Phase two of the talks will then focus on agreeing the “framework” of the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU. A transition period can also be agreed as part of this second stage, but the detail of the future relationship can only be worked out once the UK has left.

Britain wants to move to stage two fast, but in order to keep as much leverage as possible in talks on the future relationship aims to delay agreeing the financial settlement as long as possible. The EU27 are adamant that all phase one issues must be addressed to their satisfaction before any talk of the future relationship.

On the most troublesome issue of the financial settlement, the UK has said it is not, at this stage, willing to make any further offer beyond €20bn to ensure no member state loses out in the two years after the UK leaves. The EU has said this position is insufficient to give it confidence to move on to trade talks.

Davis and Barnier lunched on pan-fried sea bass with sautéed bacon, followed by roast fillet of Angus beef, with a dessert of pear and chocolate soufflé, accompanied by English and French wines.

The two sides are not due to sit down to negotiate on Wednesday, although both sides insisted they would do so if the other party was available.

Asked why the day had been left blank, the European commission’s spokesman said the timetable was set in order to fit in with the availability of the British negotiating team.

In response, a spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU said: “The talks this week were a mutually agreed programme designed to give both sides the best chance to make progress. We have always been clear that we are ready to negotiate at any time.”

The European parliament’s Brexit coordinator briefed MEPs on the chamber’s budget committee earlier in the day, and warned of his particular concern about the lack of progress on the issue of the Irish border.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 10th October 2017 15.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010