- Next stage of Brexit negotiations may not start until December — two months later than planned.
- Disagreements over divorce proceedings show little sign of progress.
- UK officials hope for change of heart in new German government.
- Ministers deny any delay has been agreed.
LONDON — The next round of Brexit talks is likely to be delayed until at least the end of the year, leaving Britain with less than a year to negotiate its future trade relations with the European Union.
Talks on Britain’s future relationship with the EU were set to begin in October after the two sides made significant progress on citizens’ rights, the Northern Irish border dilemma and Britain’s exit bill.
However, progress has stalled on all the key issues surrounding Britain’s divorce proceedings, leaving UK officials to consider a two month delay sources have told Sky News.
One factor in a possible delay is the German federal elections, which will take place at the end of September with current polling suggesting Angela Merkel’s CDU party will yet again return as the biggest party in coalition but with new partners.
The feeling within Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet is that Berlin will likely require a few weeks to finalise its new coalition government, meaning Merkel’s government will not be able to participate in Brexit talks until later in the year, according to Cabinet sources who have spoken to Sky News.
A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) denied the story on Thursday morning, saying: “Government officials are working at pace and we are confident we will have made sufficient progress by October to advance the talks to the next phase.”
Time is running out
Barnier said last month talks were already stalling due to the British side’s reluctance to discuss the divorce bill in spite of the EU’s insistence that “significant progress” must be made on the issue before talks on future trade relations can take place. Recent reports suggested Britain’s financial obligations could add up to £36 billion.
The UK government is attempting to speed up progress by publishing a series of papers outlining its stance on a number of key aspects of the negotiation. This week DExEU has released position papers on the customs union and the Northern Irish border, with more papers set to follow in the coming weeks.
British businesses have welcomed the papers but the EU Commission reiterated its long-standing stance that talks regarding future trade — including any customs union arrangement — will not begin until the two sides have agreed on a sum of money Britain will pay to Brussels when it departs in March 2019.
In its paper on the customs union, DExEU outlined its desire for a transitional customs union deal followed by a “new” and “frictionless” customs arrangement, which the EU Parliament’s Guy Verhofstadt later described as “fantasy.” The EU Commission also poured cold water over the proposals, saying “frictionless trade is not possible outside the single market and customs union.”
The UK government’s paper on Northern Ireland made a commitment to upholding the Good Friday peace agreement and Common Travel Area (CTA) in talks with the EU — the latter being an open borders area comprising the UK and Northern Ireland which allows citizens to move freely within it.
If talks are delayed until Christmas, the British side will be left with less than 12 months to reach a final deal with the EU, including an agreement on future trade relations. The two-year Article 50 period does not expire until March 2019 but any deal must be sent off to the EU Parliament for ratification before it can be finalised. This means negotiations will likely have to reach a conclusion in late 2018.
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