EU's Barnier Says U.K. Must Honor Its Spending Pledges

By Laurence Norman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Britain must stand by the spending commitments it has made to the European Union if it wants to progress during Brexit talks into discussions on a future trade deal, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday.

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With the second round of Brexit talks set to start next Monday, Mr. Barnier urged the U.K. government to present position papers on all the priority issues in the talks, saying that so far Britain had only set out its stance on the future rights of EU citizens in the U.K. once Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

The EU has placed several key divorce issues as priorities in the talks, which it says must be tackled before the bloc starts working on the outlines of a future trade deal. They are citizens' rights, the situation in Northern Ireland and a divorce bill, which represents British EU spending pledges agreed in the past.

"These three priority subjects...are indivisible," Mr. Barnier said in a press conference. "Now what the means in other words is that progress on one or two of these subjects would not be sufficient in order for us to be able to move onto" discussions on a future trade deal.

"The sooner we receive clarification on the British positions from the topics we have not heard from them on, the better," the former French foreign minister said, adding that he would work through the July 14 holiday to comb through British positions. "I am ready. Our team is ready."

Mr. Barnier said the EU team would send additional position papers on divorce issues to London ahead of next week's talks. They have already sent nine such papers on specific divorce issues.

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EU officials have said the U.K. should stand by financial commitments worth upward of EUR60 billion when it leaves. U.K. officials have said they would abide by legal commitments but have questioned the reasoning behind demands for large sums. On Tuesday, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called such large figures "extortionate" and said that Brussels can "go whistle" if they want Britain to pay such amounts.

Mr. Barnier responded to that comment in his remarks on Wednesday: "I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking," he said, referring to the tight timetable for the exit talks.

Mr. Barnier has in the past said he hopes to be in a position to recommend to EU leaders in October that enough progress has been made on the priority divorce issues for negotiations to move ahead. However there have been warnings from officials and diplomats in Brussels that if Britain doesn't speed its responses on the main issues, that timetable may be delayed. Mr. Barnier didn't specifically echo that.

Mr. Barnier confirmed he would meet U.K. upper house lawmakers later Wednesday and would hold meetings with various British politicians later in the week. They include Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the heads of the Scottish and Welsh governments.

He said he has always made clear that he wanted to hear from various people in the British debate on Brexit.

"Of course, I will only negotiate with the U.K. government," he added.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 12, 2017 08:47 ET (12:47 GMT)