EU Lawmakers Chide U.K. Over Brexit Divisions

By Laurence Norman Features Dow Jones Newswires

European lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday for a resolution saying too little progress had been made in Brexit talks to allow discussions to begin on a future trade deal with the U.K.

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Leading lawmakers also slammed continued divisions within the British government over Brexit. The vote is not binding on the European Union's negotiating team.

The vote comes at an awkward moment for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May who sought to unblock talks in a speech in Florence last month. After losing her parliamentary majority in June's snap election, she is battling to regain political authority during this week's annual meeting of her Conservative party.

The EU has repeatedly said that Brexit negotiations must focus on major divorce issues first, including the future rights of EU citizens in the U.K., the EU demand that Britain stands by past EU spending pledges and how to resolve a hard border in Ireland. Only when the talks make sufficient progress will the EU move to a second phase of negotiations that deal with future trade relations, Brussels says.

A fifth round starts next week. EU leaders meet on Oct. 20 and 21.

In its resolution, the European Parliament said "sufficient progress has not yet been made" on key divorce issues.

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The European Parliament will vote on any Brexit deal that emerges from the two years of talks but has no power to halt negotiations before then.

However European officials have been increasingly clear that negotiations won't advance to a new phase in October, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying last week "miracles" would be required for that. That likely means talks on a future relationship won't start before the new year.

Speaking to parliament ahead of the vote, Mr. Barnier said "there are still serious divergences, especially on the financial settlement." He said the EU "will never accept" that Britain can walk away from spending pledges it has made in the past, commitments that EU officials claim are worth upwards of EUR60 billion.

Fresh tensions could also be brewing over Mrs. May's request in her Florence speech for a two-year transition period after Britain leaves the bloc, due in March 2019.

Senior U.K. ministers have said that during that transition period, the U.K. should be exempt from some of the normal EU rules, for example the need to adopt new EU laws and regulations agreed during the transition. Mr. Barnier said on Tuesday that the EU could only foresee a short transition "during which the whole structure" of EU rules, budget payments and the oversight of the European Court of Justice must apply.

Mr. Barnier also appeared to draw back from a possibility, discussed by European officials last week, that negotiations could start on the transition phase in coming weeks. He told lawmakers that discussions on a "possible transition" would be part of the second phase of talks, once a breakthrough is made on divorce issues.

During a three-hour debate, there were attacks from senior EU lawmakers on the British government, including public jockeying over Brexit approaches between Mrs. May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit secretary David Davis and others.

The Parliament's Brexit pointman Guy Verhofstadt said "I want to express a big worry of mine and that is the lack of clarity or I can even say disunity --at the other side of the negotiation table."

Manfred Weber, a German lawmaker who leads the biggest bloc in parliament, the center right European People's Party, laid into what he called Mr. Johnson's "attacks against his own prime minister."

"Please sack Johnson because we need a clear answer to who speaks for the British position," he said.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 03, 2017 07:56 ET (11:56 GMT)