Three Months of Brexit Talks: 5 Percent Progress, 500 More Words

(Bloomberg) -- Amid all the noise of the Brexit talks, there’s one way to measure U.K. progress, and that’s on paper.

By that yardstick, the fruits of British negotiators’ work over the past three months in discussions with their European Union counterparts boil down to having agreed on another 2,518 words in the text of the withdrawal treaty out of a total of 49,049. That’s 5 percent.

That figure, from an analysis of the text carried out by Bloomberg, underscores why EU officials are demanding negotiations speed up. Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that a lot of work is needed over the summer, while EU leaders will demand “intensified efforts” at their summit next week, according to a draft statement.

The proportion of the final treaty that U.K. and EU officials agreed on increased from 75 percent in March to just under 80 percent in June, according to the analysis. Of the new 5 percent, the U.K. has accepted almost wholesale the EU’s version from March, only tweaking language and adding legal clarifications in areas including value-added tax, nuclear material and the enforcement of judicial decisions.

Excluding footnotes and annexes, they added 500 words and deleted 68 words in the 117-page document between March and June.

While it was always the case that the easiest parts of the treaty would be agreed earliest, EU diplomats in Brussels say they have been alarmed by the slow pace of the work since March. Both sides aim for the document to be completed in October to give enough time for ratification in the British and European parliaments.

The Brexit treaty covers a long list of the issues connected to the U.K.’s divorce from the bloc after 46 years, including the estimated 39 billion pounds ($52 billion) it’s committed to pay, a backup plan to keep the Irish border invisible, rules to keep supply chains running smoothly, a framework for protecting intellectual property and a deal on exchanging data. It also includes an agreement for a 21-month transition phase which won’t take effect if the entire treaty isn’t approved.

The European Commission put forward its first version of the text in February after eight months of discussions with the U.K. Barnier said in March that the U.K. had agreed to 75 percent of the text.

A person familiar with the talks said that while little of the draft had changed between March and June, negotiators had held intensive discussions during that time, particularly around the section on nuclear material. They agreed that the ownership of EU atomic material being kept on British soil will transfer to the U.K.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who met Barnier in the Hague on Friday, said on Twitter that “further progress is needed quickly, in particular regarding the withdrawal treaty.”

The final 20 percent of the withdrawal agreement that hasn’t been agreed on consists largely of issues that need high-level political decisions: the Irish border backup plan, rules for the U.K.’s customs area in Cyprus, how disputes arising from the Brexit deal will be dealt with, and the protection of regional food and drink products. While the draft treaty doesn’t show any agreement yet, the two sides have discussed these issues. The U.K. insists that some of the topics can only be concluded in the context of wider discussions on the two sides’ post-Brexit relationship.

In a joint statement this week, negotiators from the U.K. and EU said that they were committed to “making progress as quickly as possible on all aspects necessary” to reach an overall deal.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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