Barnier Tells EU Governments `Not Much Progress' in Brexit Talks

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the bloc’s governments Monday that separation talks with the U.K. remain stalled, with disagreements ranging from the Irish border to who should rule on disputes over the withdrawal agreement.

“The Council was informed that not much progress has been made” since the last meeting of EU leaders in March, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva told reporters in Brussels after an update from Barnier. Emphasizing the hurdles ahead, she noted that the October deadline both sides want to meet is “only five months from now” and called for “more intensive engagement” from the U.K. in coming weeks.

Lack of progress on how to keep the Irish border open after Brexit, whether the European Court of Justice will still have a role in British affairs and “all remaining separation issues” could sour talks on the future relationship between the two sides, Zaharieva signaled.

The deadlock increases the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit in less than a year, as Theresa May’s government is under pressure from hardliners in her party to opt for an abrupt departure rather than give in to EU demands.

Zaharieva, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, dismissed May’s proposals for a bespoke customs arrangement between the EU and the U.K, saying that “if they want to be part of the customs union, the customs union should be as it is now.” She also reiterated that the EU sees current U.K. proposals on Ireland as a recipe for a “hard border.”

Zaharieva said the agenda for June’s EU leaders’ summit may not be finalized until days before the meeting to take account of any last minute developments. She said leaders need to make progress at that meeting and October is the “last possible” date to agree on the terms for an orderly Brexit.

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