European Union economy chief Pierre Moscovici insisted on “first things first” in deadlocked Brexit talks and left open the possibility they may fail to move on to trade discussions after October.
The positions of the EU and the UK “are not at this stage fully compatible and that’s quite normal because we know that this discussion will be long-lasting,” Mr Moscovici told Bloomberg Television in an interview at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy.
Asked whether he expected the negotiations to move on to trade from October onward, Mr Moscovici said: “We must start by resolving the issues that are on the table, then we will think about our future relationship.” He added: “It’s no secret that we think that we need to have a very strong trade relationship with the UK out of the EU, but first things first.”
Earlier this week Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the talks still had done nowhere near enough for there to be a prospect of moving on to trade discussions after October. The main hurdle is the bill which the EU wants the UK to pay.
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The “basic principles” of the EU and the other 27 member states are that “the financial problems must be solved first of all and then we must be in full agreement with our British friends on the citizens’ rights -- citizens from the EU living in the UK, citizens from the UK living in the EU and their families,” Mr Moscovici said.
“My friend Michel Barnier is a bit worried about the progress of the negotiations but we still have some time to go, quite a good deal of time to go,” the EU’s economic affairs commissioner said.
But Mr Moscovici insisted the deadline for UK withdrawal would be met. “We have no choice, we have no alternative. We know precisely what the timetable is, we know Brexit has to be solved by 29th March 2019,” he said. “We must first solve the problems that we need to solve, before looking at the future of our relationship which is obviously decisive and important, but we must not start by that. First things first.”
Asked about Brexit Secretary David Davis urging Mr Barnier to use “imagination” and flexibility to allow talks to move forward, Moscovici countered that Barnier is acting “in the name of the 27 member states, the 27 member states are really united.”
“We know where we want to go to, a clean, orderly and hopefully friendly Brexit -- but also defending the interests of the citizens of the EU, that is the only thing that counts for us,” Mr Moscovici said.