Brexit talks in ‘disturbing deadlock,’ EU’s Barnier says

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gestures as he participates in a media conference with British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 12 October 2017
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Brexit talks in ‘disturbing deadlock,’ EU’s Barnier says

BRUSSELS: Britain and the EU are stuck in a “disturbing” deadlock over the Brexit divorce bill, although a breakthrough remains possible in the next two months, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Thursday.
The stalemate will stoke fears swirling in London and Brussels of a breakdown in talks that could see Britain leaving the EU in March 2019 without an agreement to soften the blow.
Wrapping up a fifth round of talks with Britain’s David Davis, Barnier said he could not recommend to EU leaders at a summit next week that negotiations move on from divorce issues to talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
The Frenchman reserved his most cutting comments for the issue of financial commitments, saying Britain had still not spelled out what Prime Minister Theresa May promised in a key speech in Florence, Italy, last month.
“We are at a deadlock on this question which is extremely disturbing,” Barnier told a press conference with Davis at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels.
Speaking a mix of French and English, Barnier said the “constructive” talks had clarified some points but that there had not been any “great steps forward” on central issues.
The leaders of the other 27 EU countries have demanded there be “sufficient progress” on the Brexit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and on Northern Ireland before moving on to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal.
Barnier said on the bill in particular there had been no actual negotiations with Davis, only narrow technical talks on the details.
“I am not currently able to recommend to next week’s European Council to open discussions on the future relationship,” Barnier said.
But he added: “I remain convinced that with political will, decisive breakthroughs are within reach in the coming two months.”
The EU negotiator also warned against the possibility of a so-called “Hard Brexit” after May admitted this week that her government was setting aside money for a “no-deal scenario.”
“A no deal will be a very bad deal,” Barnier said.
Davis, a key figure in the Leave campaign in last year’s Brexit referendum, said he still hoped EU leaders could decide to shift to the next phase when they meet next week.
“I hope the member states will recognize the progress we’ve made and take a step forward in the spirit of the prime minister’s Florence speech,” Davis said, adding that it was “in the interests of Europe and the UK.”
Davis called on EU leaders to give Barnier a mandate next week to “explore ways forward” on May’s proposal for a two-year transition period after Brexit, even if trade talks are not opened.
The possibility of Britain leaving without a deal has suddenly become a reality in recent days, as the failure of negotiators to reach a breakthrough has rattled nerves and markets.
EU President Donald Tusk warned on Tuesday that the bloc may rethink whether a Brexit deal is possible if there is no progress by the end of the year.
Tusk also ruled out the possibility of moving onto the trade talks phase at the Oct. 19 summit, though he said he hoped to be able to by the next summit in December.
“If it turns out that the talks continue at a slow pace, and that ‘sufficient progress’ hasn’t been reached, then — together with our UK friends — we will have to think about where we are heading,” he said.


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 7 sec ago
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”