EU diplomats have hit out at Britain’s failure to agree it must pay a hefty financial settlement for Brexit, suggesting the controversy will “stall” the talks.
The second round of the negotiations appeared to have run into trouble within 24 hours of resuming in Brussels, over the vexed issue of the so-called “divorce bill”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, was preparing to tell the British side that the negotiations served little purpose until Britain engaged seriously with the issue of payments.
“Financial settlement is the priority,” one EU diplomat told the Politico website.
“The EU will not walk away from talks but will stall them. The impression we got so far is that the UK is not ready for these talks.”
Another EU diplomat said: “It is reasonable to expect the Brits to say something other than ‘we will not pay a penny.’ If that’s not the case, what is there to talk about?”
The warning comes after eyebrows were raised over David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, leaving the talks after just one hour on Monday.
Mr Davis made only a flying visit to Brussels, speaking with Mr Barnier for no more than 15 minutes, before heading back to London and leaving the negotiations to his officials.
The agenda for the four-day talks includes the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and British ex-pats in the EU – the exit bill and the Northern Ireland border.
Last week, Mr Barnier urged the British side to present detailed proposals on all three priorities before the talks resumed, but there is no evidence that this happened.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, asked about the diplomats’ criticism, said: “I haven’t seen those comments.
“Negotiations are ongoing and, as I have said throughout, we are not providing a running commentary on it.” Ms May was updated “all the time”, he added.
The European Commission declined to comment on the state of the negotiations, but said a working group on the UK’s financial settlement had convened as planned.
The Government has sent out mixed messages about its willingness to pay a large financial settlement in recognition of its past and future commitments.
The Brexit department acknowledged last week that there would be “obligations” even after departure day – but Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs the EU could “go whistle”.
The EU has refused to put a hard figure on the financial settlement it is demanding, amid claims it could run to €100bn.
Mr Davis’ officials insisted it had always been the plan for him to open the negotiations, leave his team to handle the detailed talks and return to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon.
They denied he had been forced to return to Westminster early because Labour had forced an emergency debate and the Conservatives lacked a majority.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said the Government was in disarray over the Brexit talks. “The clock is ticking and the risks are increasing day by day.”
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