UK must settle its account if it wants Brexit talks to progress, says Guy Verhofstadt
Uncertainty around UK’s Brexit divorce bill must ‘disappear’, says European Parliament’s negotiator.
European Parliament may 'make a nuisance of itself' if Brexit talks fail to make sufficient progress | Photo credit: Rob Grasso
The European Parliament’s Brexit point man Guy Verhofstadt has insisted Britain must accept a financial settlement is needed before moving to talks about trade and other issues.
The Belgian MEP told a parliamentary committee, “At this moment, we don’t even know if the UK recognises that there is a financial settlement to make. This uncertainty has, in my opinion, to disappear as fast as possible.”
His comments came on the eve of a visit to Brussels on Thursday by UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn held a meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, which focused on the UK continuing to have access to the single market.
The British Labour leader discussed an alternative vision of Brexit during nearly two-and-half hours of talks with Barnier and his deputy negotiators.
Speaking separately at a foreign affairs committee meeting in parliament ahead of Corbyn’s Brussels visit, Verhofstadt told his fellow MEPs: "I think it’s the role of the parliament to scrutinise if sufficient progress is made and to do that before the Council has taken a decision on this.
"If somebody says you have to make sufficient progress to go into the second phase of the negotiation, sufficient progress doesn’t mean a lot of progress in one file and no progress in another file.
"That is not sufficient progress. It cannot be one of the elements of the negotiations mostly done and all the rest we have not even started - that is not sufficient."
The EU is insisting that citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the border situation in Northern Ireland are all satisfactorily sewn up before the negotiations move on to future relations.
But Verhofstadt said the UK needs to pay a divorce bill to leave the club after UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the bloc could "go whistle".
The Belgian MEP also addressed the constitutional affairs on Wednesday with an update on the talks. MEPs discussed recent developments related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with Verhofstadt.
He assessed the progress of the negotiations ahead of the next week’s second round of formal discussions between EU and UK government officials on 17 July. Talks began the on 19 June.
“At this moment, we don’t even know if the UK recognises that there is a financial settlement to make. This uncertainty has, in my opinion, to disappear as fast as possible” Guy Verhofstadt
The European Parliament has already outlined its key principles and conditions for approving the UK's withdrawal agreement. Any final Brexit agreement will need to win the approval of a majority of MEPs.
The assembly’s Brexit Steering Group, chaired by Verhofstadt has also presented an assessment of the British government’s recent offer to grant EU citizens in the UK a "settled status" following any EU exit.
In his meetings with the two committees this week, the former Belgian prime minister said it was unhelpful that British ministers had not yet indicated whether they had accepted there will have to be a financial settlement as part of the negotiations, adding that doing so would speed up the process.
He urged that "this uncertainty must disappear as fast as possible" and suggested that MEPs may look to make a nuisance of itself over the key issue of whether 'sufficient progress' has been made in the first part of the talks.
During his meetings with the parliament's committees he again insisted that Britain would not be able to move ahead on discussions about a future trade deal until it has agreed to settle the accounts.
Corbyn told reporters that the two sides were “not negotiating” as he emerged from the Berlaymont headquarters building at the end of a day that also included meetings with Jean-Claude Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, and the UK ambassador, Sir Tim Barrow.
“We are forming an opinion of what the EU wants in this and representing the views of people that voted for us, particularly about the future of jobs in the UK,” Corbyn said.
On Thursday, the UK government published its 66-page Great Repeal bill that will rescind the European Communities Act of 1972, and transfer decades of EU law onto the UK’s statute books.
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