BRUSSELS – The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator warned Thursday it could still be months before enough progress is made in talks with the U.K. for the bloc to be ready to discuss a future trade relationship with Britain.
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As the fourth round of Brexit talks wrapped up, both sides said progress had been made on two key issues: citizens rights and EU demands that the U.K. uphold spending pledges it has made as a member of the bloc.
However, Michel Barnier said there hadn't yet been enough progress on major divorce issues for negotiations to start on future relations.
"It'll take weeks or possibly even months until we can say there has been sufficient progress," he said at a joint press conference with British Brexit secretary David Davis.
Mr. Barnier said at the start of talks in June that he hoped to say by October that sufficient progress had been made to advance discussions. His comments Thursday serve as a note of caution after what was otherwise a week of progress.
In a major speech on Brexit last Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a transition period of about two years after Brexit, in which the U.K. would continue to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020 in return for retaining access to EU markets. Britain is due to leave the bloc in March 2019.
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Mr. Davis said Thursday his negotiating team had this week laid out details of how a transition period could work but that now wasn't the moment to get specific on any payments to the EU beyond that point.
"That will need to come later," he said.
Mr. Barnier said that for talks to progress, Britain must agree to stand by all its past spending commitments, which EU officials have put at upward of EUR60 billion. Britain's 2019 and 2020 commitments are likely to total around EUR20 billion, roughly two years of budget payments.
As well as a financial settlement, the EU has also called for "sufficient progress" on the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. after Brexit and a feasible plan on how to avoid re-creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. Only then will it discuss the future EU-U.K. relationship.
Mr. Barnier said Mrs. May's speech in Florence last week had clearly opened the way for progress in the latest talks.
"We managed to create clarity on some points. On others, more work remains to be done and we are not there yet," he said.
Mr. Davis said there had been "decisive steps forward" after this week's talks. On citizens rights, he said there has been progress on issues such as future social-security payments to EU citizens.
However, he also acknowledged significant differences on some points, including a demand from Brussels that EU courts have oversight of how the future right of European citizens in Britain is secured.
The two sides have come closer on this point with the U.K. promising its courts will take into account EU law and the Brexit agreement. However, the EU wants its citizens to have direct access to EU courts to enforce their rights after 2019.
Mr. Barnier noted Mrs. May's proposal for a transition period but said he didn't have a mandate to discuss such an arrangement.
However, he didn't rule out the possibility that discussions on a transition could come before the EU decides it is ready to negotiate its future trade relationship with the U.K.
Mrs. May, who lost her parliamentary majority after a snap election in June faces a crucial few days. The British prime minister will meet later Thursday in the Estonian capital with other EU leaders. On Saturday, her Conservative party's annual conference begins.
Ahead of the summit, Mrs. May said she wanted to deepen security cooperation between the EU and the U.K. after Brexit, including on issues such as cybersecurity and illegal migration.
"As we prepare for Brexit, I want to build a bold, new security partnership with the EU," she said."
--Jenny Gross in London contributed to this article
Write to Laurence Norman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 28, 2017 09:32 ET (13:32 GMT)