EU, U.K. Make Progress in Brexit Talks But Clash Over Divorce Bill -- 2nd Update

By Laurence Norman and Stephen Fidler Features Dow Jones Newswires

The second round of Brexit negotiations wrapped up Thursday, with the European Union acknowledging some progress but with the two sides clashing over a financial settlement the EU expects the U.K. to pay and the role of EU courts in Britain after the U.K.'s departure from the bloc.

Continue Reading Below

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, urged Britain to move speedily to offer more clarity on a number of disputed points, in particular which past EU spending pledges it will stand by once it leaves the bloc.

The issue of the divorce bill has long hovered over the discussions, with EU officials saying Britain may face exit payments upward of EUR60 billion ($69 billion) from its past spending pledges.

The U.K. government has publicly acknowledged it recognizes financial commitments to the EU once it leaves the bloc. However, at a joint news conference with Mr. Barnier, U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis wouldn't comment on whether Britain would make a payment to the EU. Some British ministers have claimed instead that the EU would owe Britain money.

"I said very clearly to David a clarification of the U.K. position is indispensable" to make "sufficient progress" in the talks, he said.

The EU has said it wants to see "sufficient progress" on these priority issues--the divorce bill, citizens rights, Northern Ireland and other separation issues--to start discussions on a future trade agreement with the U.K. Mr. Barnier has said he hopes to say that threshold has been met in October.

Continue Reading Below

Officials on both sides said Britain had offered no details on its position on the bill and it remains unclear whether the U.K. will start identifying obligations it will stand by in the coming months. EU officials said the British used the week's exit bill talks to ask a series of questions about the EU's legal analysis of what they believe Britain will need to pay.

"There was no serious discussion on the financial settlement," one official said. "They had a long set of questions...and we were able to answer each of them."

Mr. Davis was more upbeat in his take on this week's talks. He said the two sides had "robust and constructive talks" and there was much to be positive about following the four-day negotiating session. However, he acknowledged there will need to be "flexibility from both sides" for further progress.

On citizens rights, Mr. Barnier said the two sides were headed in a "common direction" but noted a series of differences remained

The former French foreign minister identified a series of major differences on citizens rights, including the EU view that EU courts must be the guarantor of post-Brexit rights of EU citizens in Britain. The U.K. has said it wants to reach an international agreement which would be enforced in the U.K. by British courts.

This week's talks come as U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sought to quell cabinet leaks and divisions over Brexit and other issues. Ms. May's Conservative party lost its parliamentary majority following snap elections called for June 8.

That has raised the risk that the government will be unable to get important Brexit-related legislation approved in parliament and raised pressure on Ms. May to soften her Brexit negotiation objectives.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com and Stephen Fidler at stephen.fidler@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 20, 2017 09:09 ET (13:09 GMT)