EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier highlights split on expats' rights


EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday that there was still a “fundamental divergence” with Britain on how to protect the rights of the three million EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit.

Speaking at a press conference after the first full round of negotiations, Barnier insisted that the European Court of Justice should be the guarantor of such rights.

Read: Brexit talks round 2: what to expect

Barnier, who appeared with British Brexit Secretary David Davis, said Britain still needed to provide clarifications on three key issues: EU citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and its position on a financial settlement of its obligations to the bloc.

“Clarification of the United Kingdom’s position is essential,” Barnier said. “We want an orderly exit, and an orderly exit requires Britain to settle its accounts. “This week’s experience has shown, we make better progress when our respective positions are clear.”

Davis said the talks had been “robust but constructive,” but noted there was “a lot left to talk about.”

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“A solution will require flexibility from both sides,” Davis added.

What role for Europe’s top court?

One major issue that continues to divide is whether the ECJ will be the final arbiter on issues that concern both the EU and UK after Brexit. Davis and his team have flatly rejected that the UK should be subject to ECJ laws after it leaves the bloc, while Barnier has insisted that it should continue to play an important role, especially over the rights of EU citizens living the UK.

Read more: Brexit: Commons prepares for fight as ‘Repeal’ Bill unveiled

“Quite frankly any reference to European rights imply their oversight by the court of justice of the European Union,” Barnier said on Thursday. 

However, the Luxembourg-based court was a key factor in the British public’s decision last year to leave the EU, as campaigners from “Leave” camp repeatedly decried the ECJ’s supremacy over that of the UK courts. 

The UK’s divorce bill

Davis refused disclose if his team had reached an agreement on whether the UK would have to make some form net payment to leave the bloc, in what has often been commonly referred to as the Brexit divorce bill. 

Estimates for the bill have ranged from around 40 billion euros ($46 billion) to 100 billion euros. Last week, the UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said the EU could go whistle if its demands became too excessive.

“We’re a country that recognizes its international responsibilities and rights and that we will seek to exercise both in the future,” Davis said.

The next round of talks was set to start on August 28. 

rc/aw (Reuters, AFP)