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EU's Brexit negotiator sets out tough conditions for London

China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-13 07:12

BRUSSELS - The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator set out tough conditions for the United Kingdom to meet during the first months of talks before both sides can start looking at a future relationship.

Michel Barnier said that Britain needs to make "sufficient progress" on citizens' rights, the bill it has to pay to the EU and on the issue of the Irish border before talks can move to a future trade deal.

After British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the EU can go "whistle" for Britain to pay any excessive bill, Barnier retorted that "I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking" with the deadline of March 2019 drawing ever closer.

The UK and EU negotiators should be able to move from talks about Brexit to negotiating future relations before the end of the year, London's top Brexit official has said.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said on Tuesday that Barnier hoped to "recommend going to the parallel negotiations October-November".

Britain triggered a two-year countdown to its departure from the bloc in March, and Davis and Barnier met for preliminary talks last month. They are due to meet again next week.

The EU insists that major progress must be made on the UK's exit terms including a hefty divorce bill before negotiations can start on the UK's future relationship with the EU. Britain wants the two strands to run in parallel.

Davis told the House of Lords Brexit committee that Barnier hoped to signal in the fall that sufficient progress had been made. Once that happens, talks could move on to "free-trade issues, customs issues, justice and home affairs issues", he said.

Davis also struck an optimistic note on settling the status of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and more than 1 million UK nationals residing elsewhere in the bloc.

The two sides have sparred over the issue, with EU lawmakers accusing Britain of planning to give Europeans in Britain "second-class status".

Davis said he wanted the issue to be settled soon.

But his positive tone contrasted with comments earlier in the day made by Johnson.

Estimates of the amount Britain must pay to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments have ranged up to $114 billion.

"The sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate. ... I think 'go whistle' is an entirely appropriate expression," Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Davis, more diplomatically, said Britain's position on the divorce bill was "not to pay more than we need to".

Ap - Reuters - Xinhua

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