European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) and European Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier attend a debate on the progress of the Brexit talks at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, October 3, 2017./ AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG
EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned Tuesday that Brexit was “not a game” as he held new Brexit talks amid clashes between London and Brussels over who must make the next move.
Barnier’s comments came a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May told the European Union that the “ball is in their court” — only for the European Commission to send the ball back the other way.
Speaking after lunch with his British counterpart David Davis during the fifth round of Brexit talks in Brussels, Barnier told Britain’s BBC and Sky News: “The lunch was good and we had constructive talks.”
Asked if the ball was now in the EU’s court, the Frenchman replied: “Brexit is not a game. Don’t forget.”
This round of divorce discussions is the last before European leaders meet at a summit on October 19 to decide whether there is “sufficient progress” to move on to the trade talks that Britain desperately wants.
But with the EU virtually ruling out making enough progress, this week’s four-day talks have got off to a slow start, with Barnier and Davis meeting only on the second day of negotiations, where they would normally meet on the first.
The schedule for Wednesday meanwhile remains empty, with the EU appearing to point the blame at Britain.
“Our teams are available 24/7 and the timing of talks depends on the availability of our UK partners,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas added.
Barnier and Davis are expected to give a press conference on Thursday to reveal what, if any, progress they have made.
On Monday, Davis was at May’s side as she made a statement to the British parliament in which she insisted that Brussels now had to make the first move, after she unveiled her Brexit plans in a speech in Florence in September.
Britain also on Monday outlined proposals for new laws to set tariffs and quotas including if Britain leaves the European Union with no agreement in place, as it prepares for a post-Brexit customs system.
Asked if the EU was making contingency plans for a no deal situation, Schinas replied: “Our goal is to reach a deal.”