THE vagueness of some of the British government’s negotiating stances in the talks to formalise the UK’s departure from the European Union must be very frustrating for its EU counterparts and the first phase of negotiations – due for completion in October – is in danger of not being finalised by the agreed deadline, which could set back further phases of talks. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has become an expert at biting his lip for the sake of cordiality at the regular joint press conferences he gives with his opposite number on the British side, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, who keeps trying to put an optimistic spin on what is happening, with laid-back body language that would lead one to believe that he was involved in some sort of a game. Someday soon, M Barnier may lose the rag and few would blame him if he does.
Mr Davis keeps referring to all the thought put in by UK officials to producing position papers for the negotiations, but those we’ve seen so far are fudged, vague and even fanciful, as we have previously described the one about the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which will become the de facto western land frontier between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
It was heartening to hear M Barnier echoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s sentiments when launching a concise EU position paper, setting out its principles for the political dialogue on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations, when he declared: ‘as it was the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with solutions to overcome the challenges for the island of Ireland.’
The perilous situation that Britain leaving the European Union has created for the island of Ireland seems to have reached an unhelpful impasse in this first phase of talks, at which Mr Davis claims the EU side has insisted on agreeing a so-called divorce settlement first and foremost. He has vehemently denied rumours that the UK will agree to pay £50bn to meet its financial obligations to the EU; would that he could be that decisive about other areas of the negotiations.
While the British Houses of Parliament have been debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, one cannot help but feel that Davis and his negotiators are stalling as regards agreement on any of the matters currently being discussed with the EU ahead of the British Conservative Party’s annual conference in Manchester the first week of October, especially concerning the exit cash settlement, in order not to antagonise Tory ‘hard Brexiteers’ on the one hand and a significant group of its pro-remain MPs on the other.
With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party having revised its stance during the summer towards a ‘softer’ Brexit, and given that she leads a fragile minority government, the pressure is on British Prime Minister Theresa May from all sides.
One cannot also help but feel that if there was Northern Ireland Assembly in place, snapping at the PM’s heels, the problems created for Ireland by Brexit – north and south – would be given a much more serious focus in the talks with the European Union. So far, it seems like mere lip service and Ireland, as a whole, deserves better.