Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis (L) and European Union (EU) chief negotiator Michel Barnier attend a press conference at the end of the fifth round of Negotiation on Brexit talks at the EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, Oct. 12, 2017. The Brexit talks are currently in a "disturbing deadlock," but no deal between the EU and Britain would be a bad deal, Michel Barnier told reporters Thursday. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
by Tian Dongdong
BRUSSELS, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- The fifth round of Brexit talks concluded on Thursday and brought nothing concrete but a "disturbing deadlock" to citizens along the English Channel, amid rising fears of "no deal" between the European Union (EU) and Britain.
"No major step forward in this week's Brexit talks ... (yet) we still have the common goal," said EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier in his joint press conference with British counterpart David Davis, asserting that doing things in right order is the key to Brexit talks' success, and EU-UK future relationship is definitely not the subject of the first negotiation session.
"We worked constructively this week. We clarified certain points. But without making any great steps forward. We still have a common goal: the desire to reach an agreement on the UK's withdrawal and to outline our future relationship, when the time comes," he told reporters.
For his part, Davis urged the other 27 EU members to recognize the progress and achievements made in the past rounds of talks in the EU leaders' summit slated for Oct. 19 in Brussels, which is a precondition for the start of the second negotiation session.
NO SUFFICIENT PROGRESS TO UNLOCK DEADLOCK
At the beginning of his speech, Barnier made crystal clear that no sufficient progress in three key fields -- citizens' rights, Northern Ireland border and financial settlement -- and no talks on the future relationship between EU and Britain.
"For us, from the EU side, achieving and realizing these three big objectives is the condition for engaging in a discussion, as soon as possible, on a new ambitious, long-lasting partnership," he said.
Concerning the issue of citizens' rights, the two sides were still at loggerheads with each other. The only silver-line of the sitzkrieg was that Britain had informed EU of its intention to put in place a simplified procedure which allows EU citizens to assert their rights.
"Today I can confirm that we want to reassure those European citizens living in the UK that their rights and status will be enshrined in UK law by the Withdrawal Agreement. And yes, there will be a registration process but the administration process will be completely new. It will be streamlined, and it will be low cost," said Davis.
"We will study attentively the practical details of this procedure, which should really be simple for citizens," Barnier responded.
As for the Northern Ireland border issue, the talks were currently on a right path but more work needs to be done.
"This week we advanced on the joint principles on the continuation of the Common Travel Area, and we continued our intensive work on mapping out areas of cooperation that operate on a North-South basis on the island of Ireland ... but more work to do in order to build a full picture of the challenges to North-South cooperation resulting from the Brexit," said Barnier.
Both sides agreed a lot, but mainly in principle, without breakthrough again.
As to the financial settlement, or the divorce fee, the two sides stuck in a deadlock.
"The UK told us again this week that it still could not clarify these commitments. Therefore, there was no negotiation on this, but we did have technical discussions which were useful, albeit technical. We are, therefore, at a deadlock on this question," said Barnier, adding that "this is extremely worrying for European taxpayers and those who benefit from EU policies."
For EU, divorce fee is the precondition for talks on EU-UK future relationship, but for Britain, divorce fee is the bonus of the early starting of the talks on future relationship.
MAY'S NEW DYNAMIC MAY NOT STRONG ENOUGH
In their speeches, both Davis and Barnier referred to British Prime Minister Theresa May's speech in Florence last month, which they believed brought a new dynamic to the talks in Brussels.
"The Prime Minister's speech set out the scale of our ambition for our deep and special partnership with the European Union ... I hope the leaders of the 27 will provide Michel with the means to explore ways forward with us on that and to build on the spirit of cooperation we now have," said Davis.
For Barnier's part, May's speech strengthened his belief that "with political will, decisive progress is within our reach in the coming weeks," he said, asserting that "the agreement that we are working towards will not be built on 'concessions'... but shared objectives, obligations, duties and solutions."
But Barnier's remarks about concessions appeared to be nothing but a paronomasia, as it was the absence of concessions that made him "not able to recommend to the European Council next week to open discussions on the future relationship."
NO DEAL IS BAD DEAL FOR BOTH SIDES
In the middle of the fifth round talks, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said on his twitter account Tuesday that EU27 are not working on a "no deal" scenario in their Brexit talks with Britain.
"We negotiate in good faith and hope for 'sufficient progress' by December," he said.
Tusk's remarks came a day after May told Britain to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons on the first day back after the conference season, May said achieving a special partnership after Brexit will require leadership and flexibility, not just from Britain, but from the 27 nations of the EU.
"As we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic it will receive a positive response," May told MPs in her first parliamentary statement since her big speech in Florence.
"What we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us, but I believe that will also be the best possible deal for our European friends too. Progress will not always be smooth but by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way in a spirit of friendship and cooperation and with our sights firmly set on the future, I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong," May added.
In her statement, May said the British government had on Monday published two new policy consultation statements on trade and customs.
"These pave the way for legislation to allow the UK to operate as an independent trading nation and to create an innovative customs system that will help us achieve the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade as we leave the EU," said May.
THE BALL IS IN WHOSE COURT EXACTLY?
Also on Monday, the fifth round of Brexit negotiation started in Brussels. With the absence of Britain's Davis, the two sides kicked off their talks in a low profile -- no joint press conference.
Prior to her speech in the House of Commons, May told the other 27 members of the Union that "the ball is in the EU's court," calling on EU to take actions and exert more flexibility and imagination in the negotiations.
Answering the question of a British reporter about "the ball is in whose court," Margaritis Schinas, European Commission (EC) chief spokesperson, told reporters during Monday's daily briefing in the headquarters of the EC that "This is not exactly a ball game."
"You know we don't provide comments on comment, but what I can remind you is that there is sequencing of these talks," he said.
"There is no solution found so far to the step one, that is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK's court for the rest to happen," said Schinas.
The long-awaited Brexit talks was launched on June 19, nearly one year after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a narrow margin on June 23, 2016.
May sent a notification letter to the EU in late March, triggering a two-year countdown to Britain's withdrawal of the bloc after more than 44 years of membership.