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article imageEU's Barnier hits back at Britain's Johnson over Brexit bill

By Danny KEMP (AFP)     Jul 12, 2017 in World

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned Britain on Wednesday to quickly settle a row over its divorce bill, hitting back at foreign minister Boris Johnson's remark that the bloc could "go whistle" on the issue.

"I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking," France's Barnier told a news conference when asked about Johnson's comments on the money the European Union expects Britain to pay when withdrawing.

Barnier urged Britain to send Brussels its negotiating position on all key issues ahead of the second round of formal Brexit talks with his British counterpart David Davis, which start Monday in Brussels.

The EU chief also rejected Britain's offer on the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after it leaves the bloc in March 2019, and insisted they should come under the jurisdiction of the EU's top court.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says Britain has to admit that it needs to foot the bill for its...
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says Britain has to admit that it needs to foot the bill for its departure, estimated by EU officials at around 100 billion euros
Aurore Belot, AFP/File

Brussels says it will only start discussing a future trade deal with Britain once there has been sufficient progress on key issues involved in its withdrawal -- the estimated 100-billion-euro ($112 billion) exit bill, citizens rights, and the border in Northern Ireland.

The exit bill has been a major source of contention, leading to Boris Johnson's outburst on Monday.

"I think that the sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate and I think 'to go whistle' is an entirely appropriate expression," Johnson told parliament.

- 'Trust' needed -

But Barnier, a former European Commissioner and French foreign minister, said that following its vote last year to leave the EU, Britain must finally admit that it had to foot the bill for its departure.

Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Stre...
Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on July 11, 2017
BEN STANSALL, AFP

He also hinted that any future trade deal -- which they could start discussing later this year -- would depend on Britain paying its bills.

"How do you build a relationship which is going to last with a country where you don't have trust?" said the Frenchman.

"I can't imagine that a very great country like the UK will not also be a responsible country and respect its commitments."

A British government official said in response to Barnier's comments that London "recognised that we will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK's rights and obligations as a parting member state".

Britain has however repeatedly threatened to walk out of the talks, and a minister kept open that possibility on Wednesday.

"We are saying that it is conceivable that we will be offered a kind of punishment deal that would be worse than no deal," senior cabinet minister Damian Green told parliament, adding that "that is not our intention -- we want a deal and we want a good deal".

Spain's King Felipe VI gives a speech at the Palace of Westminster in London on July 12  2017
Spain's King Felipe VI gives a speech at the Palace of Westminster in London on July 12, 2017
HANNAH MCKAY, POOL/AFP

In Brussels, Barnier insisted once again that there was no "punishment" involved, but he showed his impatience with Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May's disastrous election performance last month has created huge uncertainty over its Brexit policy.

He insisted that he and his team were ready to work evenings, weekends "and even Bastille Day (the French national holiday which falls on Friday)" to respond if Britain manages to get its proposals in before Monday.

However, he insisted that there must be progress on all three divorce issues before moving onto trade talks.

- Gibraltar dialogue -

Barnier also rejected May's offer at an EU summit last month on the rights of EU citizens after Brexit, saying that "the British position does not allow those persons concerned to live their lives as they do today."

He insisted that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should have jurisdiction over their fate in future, dismissing May's proposal that it should be under the control of British courts.

The European Parliament's Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, said separately that Britain cannot stay a member of the EU nuclear regulator Euratom after Brexit.

Brexit has thrown a host of issues into doubt, including the future of the disputed Mediterranean outcrop of Gibraltar, which Spain's king addressed in a speech to the British parliament on Wednesday.

King Felipe VI called for Britain and Spain to work towards an arrangement on the status of Gibraltar that would be "acceptable to everyone".

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