BRUSSELS – British and European Union negotiators made some progress on technical issues during the latest round of Brexit talks that ended Thursday, but major differences remained over core issues -- notably, the financial settlement the EU has demanded from the U.K.
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Expectations were low going into the talks, with officials on both sides signaling the most that could be achieved was more clarity on each other's positions. During the talks, British officials accused the EU of inflexibility and exaggerated demands, while EU officials said their British counterparts lacked detail and seriousness; trying to mix areas that weren't yet open for negotiation.
"There are still significant differences to be bridged," said U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis in a news conference after the talks. He urged the EU "to be more imaginative and flexible" in its position to advance in the next rounds of talks.
During the four-day talks, negotiators locked horns over Britain's financial obligations to the EU and how the final bill -- which informal EU estimates suggest could exceed EUR60 billion -- was reached. While British officials accepted that there would be some "surviving obligations" after Brexit, they rejected the EU's legal arguments for the calculations. They didn't make a counteroffer. "We won't make incremental progress on this in every round," Mr. Davis said.
Two more rounds of negotiations -- in September and early October -- are scheduled before a summit of EU leaders takes place on Oct. 19-20. The leaders will decide whether "sufficient progress" has been made for talks to move to the next phase: the future relationship and the transition period needed to avoid disruption to the U.K. and EU economies.
"We are quite far from sufficient progress," said EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The quality of the eventual deal struck between Britain and the EU was more important than the time frame, he said.
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"I'm asked to show flexibility. But you need to start with a clear position based on what the U.K. recognizes as their commitments," he added.
Some progress was made on recognizing professional qualifications of Brits living in Europe and of EU citizens in the U.K., on entrepreneurs continuing to be able to set up businesses and pensioners having their health care and pension benefits guaranteed. But disagreements continue on a range of issues relating to citizens' rights, including over the jurisdiction of the EU's top court in enforcing those rights.
In a symbolic move, commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has consistently opposed Brexit, at around the same time as the negotiators talked to the press. Asked about the meeting, Mr. Davis said he wouldn't comment on the movements of "private citizens."
Earlier in the week, Mr. Juncker weighed into the Brexit debate by saying that none of the British government's Brexit papers were satisfactory and that "an enormous amount of issues" needed to be solved before talks could progress to the next phase.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 31, 2017 10:57 ET (14:57 GMT)