Where’s the ball? UK and EU exchange volleys over Brexit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 9:32pm

British Prime Minister Theresa May urged the European Union on Monday to show “leadership and flexibility” in unblocking Brexit talks, saying the ball is in the bloc’s court.

But the EU lobbed the ball straight back. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said the responsibility for progress is “entirely in the UK court”.

More than six months have passed since Britain triggered the two-year countdown to its EU exit. A fifth round of divorce negotiations opened on Monday in Brussels, with both sides frustrated by the lack of progress.

On Monday May is due to update British lawmakers on developments since her speech in Florence, Italy, last month. May’s Downing Street office said she will say that “the ball is in their court. But I am optimistic we will receive a positive response”.

In the Florence speech, intended to kick-start the foundering negotiations, May said Britain would be willing to abide by EU rules and pay into its coffers for two years after Brexit in 2019.

She also signalled Britain would pay what it owes to settle financial commitments it has made to the EU, but without naming a figure.

EU leaders called her suggestions positive but asked for more details.

Britain is increasingly anxious to move talks on to discussing future trade relations, but so far the EU says there hasn’t been “sufficient progress” on the major divorce terms – the size of the Brexit bill, the status of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and Britons living in other member states.

Schinas said “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.

Some EU countries are striking a more conciliatory note. Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen has called for compromise, saying “this will never be a 100 per cent win for one side or the other side.”

Jensen said the sides “are now on the same page” and “it is rather important we get on to a more close and more speedy process of concluding some of the issues”.

May’s official spokesman, James Chapman, said Britain believed May’s speech in Florence had created “momentum”.

“The response from the EU and its leaders has been constructive,” he said. “But let’s see what happens in the next round of talks.”