- Slovenian prime minister Miro Cerar says Brexit trade talks will not be allowed to begin as scheduled in the Autumn.
- The government wants to begin trade negotiations as soon as possible, with Brexit secretary David Davis saying they should happen at the same time as withdrawal talks.
- The European Council will decide in October if “sufficient progress” has been made in discussions so far.
LONDON — The government will not be allowed to move onto trade negotiations with the European Union in the Autumn, one of the 27 EU leaders who will make the decision has said.
Slovenia’s prime minister Miro Cerar told the Guardian newspaper in an interview that not enough progress had been made to move onto discussing a trade deal, in a blow to the government, who want to begin trade talks alongside negotiations over the UK’s withdrawal.
The European Council will decide in October whether to give the EU negotiating team the mandate to move onto future trade agreements, and Cerar is one of the 27 EU leaders who will vote on the matter.
The council is looking for “sufficient progress” to be made on three key issues — the Irish border, EU citizens’ rights and the divorce bill before giving that mandate.
Cerar said: “I think that the process will definitely take more time than we expected at the start of the negotiations.
“There are so many difficult topics on the table, difficult issues there, that one cannot expect all those issues will be solved according to the schedule made in the first place.
“What is important now is that the three basic issues are solved in reasonable time. Then there will optimism on realistic grounds. I know this issue of finance is a tricky one. But it must also be solved, along with the rights of people.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis wrote a column for the Sunday Times newspaper which pressed for wider negotiations to begin, including those on trade.
“I firmly believe the early rounds of the negotiations have already demonstrated that many questions around our withdrawal are inextricably linked to our future relationship,” Davis said, arguing “both sides need to move swiftly on to discussing our future partnership, and we want that to happen after the European Council in October.”
The Slovenian prime minister dashed Davis’ hopes and is the first EU leader to publicly admit that progress would not be made so that the timetable could move on, which will be seen as a defeat for the government.
Cerar said the original schedule was “optimistic” and that “you cannot expect such fundamental issues to be solved in a few months.”
There were reports on Friday that negotiations between the EU and the UK had stalled to such an extent, particularly on the issue of the divorce bill, that the next stage would not start until December, giving the UK just a year to attempt to avoid a “cliff-edge.”
The government will publish a further five Brexit position papers this week, including two on confidentiality and goods on the market on Monday, and one on the UK’s future relationship with the European Court of Justice.
The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, told the Guardian: “The prime minister’s ideological obsession that there should be no role whatsoever for the ECJ or any court-like body will continue to hinder the prospect of any meaningful and lasting arrangement with the EU.
“We have already seen that this unnecessary and dogmatic position has prevented a sensible approach to issues such as Euratom and citizens’ rights. If the prime minister does not change course and show more flexibility on this central issue, it will haunt her throughout the Brexit negotiations.”
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said: “Constant reports of cabinet spats show our government cannot even agree a position between themselves, let alone win concessions from EU negotiating teams in our country’s best interests.”
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