Has the UK made a U-Turn over the Brexit timetable?

Back on 14th May 2017, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis was bullish: the Brexit timetable will be the ‘row of the summer’.

The EU wanted a phased approach, with certain issues dealt with before any trade agreement is discussed.  The latter would only happen once there was sufficient progress on the former.

The EU guidelines setting out this approach are here and they provide:

the first phase of negotiations will aim to:

– provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible to citizens, businesses, stakeholders and international partners on the immediate effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union;
– settle the disentanglement of the United Kingdom from the Union and from all the rights and obligations the United Kingdom derives from commitments undertaken as Member State.

The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase.

The rejection by Davis of this approach was to be the ‘row of the summer’.

Earlier today the following was tweeted by a BBC journalist:

So #EU source says UK has agreed to EU sequence. Must agree citizens rights and money issues before EU will discuss future trade relations

— Damian Grammaticas (@dngbbc) June 16, 2017

This was elaborated on the BBC site:

“…the source told the BBC that it was understood the talks would broadly follow the EU’s preferred sequence, dealing with issues of citizens’ rights and a framework for calculating outstanding financial liabilities before moving on, possibly later in the year, to deal with the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”

If this was correct, the UK government has capitulated on the timetable.  Instead of the ‘row of the summer’ the government’s position had not lasted until midsummer’s day.

By way of background, Article 50(2) includes the following:

“In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.” 

And the Article 50 letter of 29 March 2017 included the following:

“We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.”

[…]

“Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.” 

I asked the Department for Exiting the European Union for a statement.

The statement given to me (and I understand also to the BBC, see here) said as follows:

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European said:

“We have been crystal clear about our approach to these negotiations.

“As we set out in the Article 50 letter, our view is that withdrawal agreement and terms of the future relationship must be agreed alongside each other. We are clear this is what is set out in Article 50.

“We believe that the withdrawal process cannot be concluded without the future relationship also being taken into account.

“As the EU has itself said, ‘nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed’.

“As we also said in our Article 50 letter, ‘agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority’. But the withdrawal and future are intimately linked.

“In particular, we want to move ahead on securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. We want to end the anxiety facing 4 million citizens.

“That has always been our first aim and that is what we will do. That is why we are pushing ahead with negotiations on Monday.”

(ends)

This seemed rather wordy and did not seem like a straight denial of the BBC claim.  Read carefully, there seemed to me to be wiggle-room.  (As a rule, any statement described as “crystal clear” or similar will tend not to be clear.)

So I asked the Department for a straight response to the statement.

Was what Damian Grammaticas said in the tweet correct or was it incorrect?

The press officer told me that they they would need to get back to me on this, and that they would send an on-the-record answer.

I will publish that answer when it arrives.

*

ADD: POLITICO Europe now sourcing this to two EU diplomats, see here:

The U.K. government has agreed to the EU’s demand to start Brexit negotiations with the divorce settlement before moving on to trade issues, two EU diplomats told POLITICO.

Still no word back from DExEU.

ADD: One hour later

A press officer emails me: “We have nothing further to add to our statement.” 

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