Brexit talks are due to resume in Brussels today, with the EU calling for progress on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill before talks on a future trade deal can begin.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has called for talks on trade to run concurrently with other issues, demanding that the EU show “flexibility and imagination” in its approach.
But privately neither side is expecting any real progress in the third round of talks, with the EU dismissive of the UK Government’s talk of a “virtual” border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and the British accusing the EU of inflating its divorce bill demands.
Mr Davis will say that this week’s “technical talks” will build on the previous round, held in July, and the Brexit policy papers the UK Government has published in recent weeks.
He will say: “For the UK, the week ahead is about driving forward the technical discussions across all the issues.
“We want to lock in the points where we agree, unpick the areas where we disagree, and make further progress on a range of issues.
“But in order to do that, we’ll require flexibility and imagination from both sides.”
The European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted last week that the focus of the third round of negotiations would be “orderly withdrawal”, but stressed that it was “essential” to make progress on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, settling the finances and sorting the issue of the the Irish border before any talks on a future trade deal begun.
Mr Davis and Mr Barnier will meet in Brussels to formally start the third round of negotiations today.
Officials will then meet in working groups to discuss the detail behind each side’s proposals, with the round being closed on Thursday.
Mr Davis was criticised after taking part in less than an hour of discussions on the first day of the previous round of negotiations in July. Officials for the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) insisted that he had always intended to leave the talks after a “meet and greet” with Mr Barnier, but his flying visit caused consternation in Brussels.
In the first phase of negotiations, UK and EU officials are meeting each month for four days in Brussels.
The talks come as UK and German trade bodies have called for shared economic interests to be a priority in the Brexit negotiations.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Association of German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK) said uncertainty over “business-critical” issues such as workers’ rights, tax and customs arrangements needed to be tackled.
And it was reported that pro-EU Conservatives had warned yesterday that they would use Labour’s new commitment to continued single market membership to push the Government towards a Soft Brexit.
Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe and a leading Remain campaigner, told The Times that Labour’s move would terrify some of her colleagues.
She said: ‘If you were a hard Brexiteer you would be very, very nervous because the arguments are shifting. You can see that your Hard Brexit is going down the pan.’