While you were enjoying the last few hours of a sunny bank holiday, the great Brexit dance struck up again in Brussels as David Davis and Michel Barnier met for the latest round of talks.
We’re told that the focus this week will be on the technical elements of the UK’s departure, with Davis saying yesterday that he wants to “lock in the points where we agree [and] unpick the areas where we disagree”.
This description of the week’s agenda, delivered at a short press conference before the two sides sat down yesterday, fails to conceal the gulf that still exists between the UK and the EU – not only on the substance of negotiations, but on their timings.
Davis has called on the EU to demonstrate “flexibility and imagination” – characteristics that the institutions of Europe have demonstrated on plenty of occasions when dealing with their own problems, but which are undoubtedly lacking in their approach to Brexit.
As the (Remain supporting) lawyer David Allen Green has pointed out, the EU is being “maddeningly bureaucratic” in its approach to negotiations.
As Green says, this stems from the fact that the EU position is dictated by a web of declarations and decisions including the Guidelines agreed by the European Council in April, the European Commission’s subsequent Recommendation to the Council and the Negotiation Directives adopted by the Council in May.
Taken together, they may not appear to allow Barnier much room for flexibility or imagination. And yet, Davis is absolutely right to try to move the EU off its rigid approach to the sequence of talks.
As the UK and German chambers of commerce declared in a joint statement yesterday, “the UK and the EU must begin to work on transitional arrangements, particularly on customs, so that firms on both sides of the Channel have the confidence to make investment decisions”.
In other words: sod your process, we need some decisions. Of course, the UK can advance the talks by accepting its financial obligations and settling on a Brexit bill, but the EU must also show a real willingness to make progress and not just an eagerness to stick to its own timetable. It’s time for each side to give a little.