Clarification still needed on key issues to move Brexit talks on - Juncker

The European Union (EU) still needs greater clarity from Britain on key issues if the Brexit talks are to move on to the second phase, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker welcomed the "conciliatory" tone of Theresa May's Florence speech in which she said no EU member state would lose out financially as as result of Britain's decision to leave.

However, he underlined the view of the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that more progress was needed on the issues of citizens' rights and the border with Ireland as well as the financial settlement before they could open talks on a free trade deal.

"When it comes to Brexit we still cannot talk about the future without any real clarity. We first need to agree on the terms of the divorce and then we see if we can lovingly find each other," he said.

"The Prime Minister's speech in Florence was conciliatory but speeches are not negotiating positions. Work still needs to be done. We have not yet made the sufficient progress needed."

Mr Juncker said the negotiations had made "good progress" on the issue of citizens' rights but the "indispensable" role of the European Court of Justice in enforcing them had yet to be agreed.

He welcomed Mrs May's recognition that the UK had to honour its financial obligations but added: "The devil will, as always, be in the detail.

"The taxpayers of the EU27 should not pay for the British decision."

Mr Barnier said Mrs May had given the EU "some openings" in her Florence speech but called for a reflection of these in "specific proposals".

"To assess the state of the play objectively, there are still serious divergences, especially on the financial settlement," he warned.

Theresa May
Theresa May's Florence speech was described as 'conciliatory' by Jean-Claude Juncker (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)

The Commission's chief negotiator suggested Mrs May's offer to fulfil Britain's EU budget commitments up to 2020 did not go far enough.

He was applauded by MEPs as he said: "We will never accept for the 27 to pay what was decided on by 28, it's as simple as that.

"The taxpayers of the 27 don't have to pay for the consequences of the decision that they didn't take. So, no more, no less."

Mr Barnier also said Mrs May's offer to write EU citizens' rights into UK law did not go far enough, stressing the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must oversee them.

"We need a consistent interpretation of the agreement on both sides of the Channel that only the ECJ can guarantee," he said.

Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier said Theresa May had given the EU 'some openings' in her Florence speech (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Barnier appeared to accuse some in Britain of under-estimating the "very heavy human and social, legal, financial, technical and economic consequences" of Brexit.

"Often these consequences are under-estimated," he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's co-ordinator on Brexit, said the negotiations were being hampered by divisions among senior British ministers.

"There is a lack of clarity, there is even disunity. There are oppositions between Hammond and Fox. There are divisions between Johnson and May," he said.

"It is difficult to make sufficient progress. It is difficult to make the steps towards the second phase of the negotiations."

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