Next Brexit move must come from UK, says EU chief, as Theresa May urges 'flexibility'

Prime Minister Theresa May updates MPs in the House of Commons on the Brexit negotiations. Picture by Press Association
Gavin Cordon, Press Association

BRUSSELS has issued a fresh warning that it is up to the UK to come forward with proposals if it wants to break the deadlock in the stalled Brexit negotiations.

As a fifth round of talks opened in the Belgian capital yesterday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for "flexibility" on both sides so they can move forward - including agreeing a free trade deal.

In a statement to MPs updating them on progress since her Florence speech last month, she said that the initiative now lies with the EU side, adding "the ball is in their court".

But at his daily press briefing in Brussels, the European Commission's chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, insisted the next move had to come from the UK.

"There is a clear sequencing to these talks. There has been so far no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK court for the rest to happen," he said.

His comments came after the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said there still has not been "sufficient progress" on the issues of the Irish border, citizens' rights and the UK's "divorce bill" for the talks to move forward.

Downing Street insisted there had been a "constructive" response to Mrs May's Florence speech in which she promised to honour the UK's outstanding financial commitments and offered to continue paying in to the EU budget during a two-year transition following Brexit.

The PM's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister said after her speech in Florence that the intention was to create momentum. I think we have seen that momentum.

"The response from the EU and its leaders has been constructive."

However it looks increasingly unlikely that EU leaders will agree that they can move forward to the second phase when they meet in Brussels later this month.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has warned that it would take "miracles" for them to be able to move on by the time of the summit on October 19-20.

In her statement to MPs yesterday, Mrs May said: "A new deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends.

"Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.

"And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court, but I'm optimistic it will receive a positive response, because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us, but I believe that will also be the best possible deal for our friends, too."

She added that new policy papers being published by the Government will pave the way for the UK to operate as an "independent trading nation" after Brexit, even if no trade deal is reached with Brussels.

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Sixteen months on from the referendum, no real progress has been made".

Meanwhile, former taoiseach John Bruton has called for a six-year extension to the Brexit negotiations.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Bruton said the extension would allow the UK to remain as a full member of the bloc until a proper agreement is reached.

"Lengthening the period to six years would, additionally, allow the UK electorate to consider, in a more informed way, the full implications of the course they are following," he said.

Mr Bruton told the Institute of Directors that a six-year extension would anger Leave campaigners and would also be difficult for the EU.

"These are valid objections, but they are arguably less damaging than the real likelihood that, if we continue as we are going, the UK will crash out of the EU without any deal," he said.

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