BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union insisted Tuesday that Brexit negotiations with Britain will not move on to the question of future relations until enough progress has been made on divorce issues, such as how much Britain’s exit bill should be.
Britain desperately wants talks to move on to future trade and security arrangements but EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that more needs to be done on the withdrawal issues first.
Juncker told the European Parliament that “we have not made the sufficient progress needed” and the EU legislators backed him, approving a resolution underscoring the same point with a vote of 557 to 92 with 29 abstentions. It further underscored the unity of the 27 EU nations as they face off with Britain in the talks.
The EU wants London to commit to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already in Britain and make that sure border posts do not reappear between Northern Ireland — which is part of the U.K. — and Ireland, which is part of the EU. It also wants Britain to pay up for everything it had agreed to while it was a member.
Juncker said “the taxpayers in the EU 27 should not pay for the British decision” to leave, while the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said “serious differences remain” on how many bills the U.K. still has to settle.
Estimates vary widely on the amount Britain will be expected to pay, from 20 billion euros ($27 billion) to over three times that amount.
“Serious rifts remain, especially on the financial settlement,” Barnier said. “We will not pay at 27 what has been decided at 28, it is simple as that.”
The parliamentary resolution called for postponing any move to widen the talks with Britain unless “a major breakthrough” takes place during the fifth round of negotiations in Brussels next week.
Observers said decisive progress was highly unlikely.
Tuesday’s moves further dampened hopes that the EU leaders might give the green light to an expansion in the talks at a summit on Oct 19-20.
British Prime Minister Theresa May downplayed the EU vote, saying it was “not unexpected” and adding that she believed EU leaders were beginning to consider Britain’s ideas.
U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis said talks were making good progress, dismissing what he called “lurid accounts” in the media of crisis and breakdown. But he also said Britain had “contingency arrangements” in case the negotiations broke down without a deal.
Many European lawmakers were dismissive of May’s Conservative government, which is widely seen as insecure and bumbling. The head of the biggest party group in the European Parliament called for the sacking of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for stoking confusion over the Brexit talks.
The European People’s Party chairman, Manfred Weber, appealed to May: “Please sack Johnson, because we need a clear answer who is responsible for the British position.”
Weber turned Henry Kissinger’s famous observation about the many leaders in the EU onto Britain.
“Who shall I call in London? Who speaks for the government? Theresa May, Boris Johnson, or even David Davis?” he asked.
Others are speculating that Britain might actually be stalling to make sure that the member states that trade heavily with the U.K. would buckle and concede at the last moment, sowing discord among the 27 remaining EU nations.
EPP member Tom Vandenkendelaere said the strong backing of the resolution proved differently.
“If the Brits they can play their old divide-and-rule game, they’d better think again,” he said.
Jill Lawless in Manchester, England contributed to this story.