EU wants UK turn May’s words into pledges

May says the UK is prepared to plug the EU’s budget black hole during a transitional period


BRUSSELSThe European Union’s (EU) chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, welcomed the “constructive spirit” of Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech last Friday, but warned that her words need to be translated into concrete progress around the negotiating table.

While her speech in Florence shows “a willingness to move forward”, many of the UK’s positions on Brexit are still unclear, Barnier said in an emailed statement. On how much Britain is prepared to pay as part of the divorce, there is still much to work on, he wrote.

“The UK recognises that no member state will have to pay more or receive less because of Brexit,” Barnier said. “We stand ready to discuss the concrete implications of this pledge. We shall assess, on the basis of the commitments taken by the 28 member states, whether this assurance covers all commitments made by the UK as a member state of the EU.”

In the speech, May said the UK is prepared to plug the EU’s budget black hole during a transitional period that would probably be about two years after the country’s withdrawal from the bloc in 2019.

This would equate to about €20 billion (RM100.4 billion). But the EU wants more than that, possibly as much as another €80 billion in gross terms, to cover past commitments and it’s unclear to EU negotiators whether May promised to pay for that.

“Our ambition is to find a rapid agreement on the conditions of the UK’s orderly withdrawal, as well as on a possible transition period,” Barnier said. “In any case, the future relationship will need to be based on a balance of rights and obligations.”

Both the EU and Britain had penciled in a summit in October for the moment when EU leaders would give the green light for talks to move onto a future relationship. That needs “sufficient progress” on the financial settlement, the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British expats in the EU, and the Irish border.

“The sooner we reach an agreement on the principles of the orderly withdrawal in the different areas — and on the conditions of a possible transition period requested by the UK — the sooner we will be ready to engage in a constructive discussion on our future relationship,” Barnier said.

Governments around Europe echoed Barnier’s cautious welcome.

European affairs ministers from the bloc’s 27 remaining states will gather in Brussels today to discuss May’s latest overtures. — Bloomberg