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UK seeks Brexit momentum with EU as key ministers end dispute

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-08-2017 Svenja O’Donnell

London: The UK is seeking to regain momentum in so-far sluggish Brexit negotiations by publishing this week the first outline of its positions as two key ministers issued a joint declaration on a post-European Union (EU) transition period, ending their disagreement over the issue.

The government plans to issue the first of three discussion papers ahead of the next round of negotiations, scheduled to start 28 August in Brussels, Brexit secretary David Davis’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

The documents—setting out proposals for Northern Ireland and the border with Ireland, continuity on the availability of goods and confidentiality, and access to official documents after Brexit—will seek to prove that the UK is ready for talks to advance to the next stage, according to the statement.

Britain is struggling with the negotiations, and the pace has sparked concerns that a March 2019 exit deadline will arrive without a deal being reached.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned EU ambassadors in July that the lack of progress meant talks on the future relationship with the UK, including a free-trade agreement, may not be possible by the next leaders’ summit in October, and may have to extended.

“I’ve launched this process because with time of the essence, we need to get on with negotiating the bigger issues around our future partnership to ensure we get a deal that delivers a strong UK and a strong EU,” Davis said. “It’s what businesses across Europe have called on both sides to do and will demonstrate that the UK is ready for the job.”

United front

In a further sign that the Conservatives are seeking to show a united front, chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond and trade secretary Liam Fox made a joint statement in which they said a transition period following Brexit isn’t a way for Britain to stay in the EU “through the back door.”

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the two cabinet members said that “we are both clear” that during the period Britain would be outside the single market and the customs union “and will be a ‘third country’ not party to EU treaties.”

The ministers were seen being on opposing sides on Brexit, with Hammond championing a business-friendly approach where Britain gradually leaves the EU while Fox sought as short a transition as possible, and for Britain to have the freedom to immediately negotiate trade deals.

‘Crystal clear’

While Britain seeks to demonstrate to voters and the EU that it has a coherent position, there are still disagreements between the UK and EU over how to approach negotiating a future trade deal.

Barnier has maintained that negotiators must make progress on the rights of EU and British citizens, the border with Ireland and Britain’s exit payment before discussing a deal. Prime Minister Theresa May wants an accord before leaving.

“We’ve been crystal clear that issues around our withdrawal and our future partnership are inextricably linked, and the negotiations so far have reinforced that view,” the Department for Exiting the EU said in the statement released on Sunday. “These papers show we are ready to broaden out the negotiations.”

A series of broader “future partnership” papers will also be published in the run-up to the October negotiating session. The first of these will set out proposals for a new customs agreement, it said.

EU leaders will meet in Brussels on 19 October, then again on 14 December. Bloomberg

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