EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier address a joint news conference after the latest round of talks in Brussels on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 10 November 2017
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EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline

BRUSSELS: EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier on Friday handed Britain a two-week ultimatum to make concessions on a divorce agreement if it wants to unlock the next phase of talks in December.
Frenchman Barnier said it was "vital" for Britain to increase its offer on its exit bill — a figure senior EU officials put at up to €60 billion —to open up talks on a future trade deal.
The fate of the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has also thrown an unexpected spanner into the works, with British negotiator David Davis ruling out the EU's preferred solution.
"My answer is yes," Barnier told a press conference at the end of the sixth round of talks in Brussels, when asked if he would need "concessions" from Britain within the next two weeks to move on.
"On the financial settlement, this is absolutely vital if we are to achieve sufficient progress in December. It is just a matter of settling accounts, as with any other separation," the former European commissioner and French foreign minister said.
Barnier added that he was "following attentively" the political situation in Britain where a series of government resignations has further weakened the government of Prime Minister Theresa May.
EU leaders decided at their last summit in October that there was insufficient progress on three main divorce issues — the bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of three million Europeans living in Britain — to move on to the next stage.
They said they hoped to open talks on future relations and a post-Brexit transition period at their next meeting on Dec. 14-15, but officials have warned that could now slip to February or March.
Hopes of a breakthrough at this week's Brussels talks —  the first since mid-October — were so low that they were cut to just one-and-a-half days from the normal four days.
Northern Ireland has reared its head in the discussions, with an internal EU paper for the talks suggesting that it should remain in the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit to prevent a hard border with Ireland.
Davis insisted Friday that any Brexit deal cannot create a frontier between Northern Ireland, where a 1998 peace deal ended decades of sectarian unrest, and the rest of the United Kingdom.
"We recognize the need for specific solutions for the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland," Davis said. "But let me be clear, this cannot amount to creating a new border inside the United Kingdom."
Barnier, meanwhile, welcomed a British proposal on protecting the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after 2019, but said there were still differences on key issues.
There appeared to be little progress on the main sticking points: The rights of EU migrants to bring their families to Britain, their ability to send welfare payments to their home countries, and whether the European Court of Justice would have jurisdiction over those rights.
"On citizens' rights we are making some progress although we need to move further on a number of points," Barnier said.
The Brexit bill has been the main source of deadlock in the talks since they began in June. The EU says it must meet budgetary commitments totalling €50 to 60 billion, but Britain puts the figure nearer 20 billion.
Britain voted to leave the EU in a shock referendum result in June 2016. The government confirmed Thursday that Brexit day will be 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.


Japan halts missile drills after Trump-Kim summit

Updated 21 June 2018
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Japan halts missile drills after Trump-Kim summit

TOKYO: Japan has halted evacuation drills simulating a North Korean missile attack in the wake of historic talks between Washington and Pyongyang, local media reported Thursday.
Government officials did not immediately confirm the reports, but authorities in one town said they were suspending a drill planned for next week on orders from Tokyo.
The decision comes after US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un met last week in Singapore, with the pair signing a joint document calling for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Yaita in Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo had been planning an evacuation drill for next week involving some 800 residents including 350 school children, city official Yutaka Yanagida said.
But the city suddenly canceled all preparations late Wednesday after being instructed by the government that “drills should be postponed for the time being following a change in the environment after the US-North Korea summit,” he said.
Contacted by AFP, a Cabinet Office official said the government would announce its policy on evacuation drills on Friday, declining to comment further.
Last year, Pyongyang fired two missiles over Japan and it has splashed others into the sea near the country, sparking a mix of panic and outrage.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Tokyo residents scrambled for cover in the Japanese capital’s first evacuation drill for a military attack by Pyongyang.
North Korea has singled out Japan, a key US ally in the region, for verbal attacks, threatening to “sink” the country into the sea and to turn it into “ashes.”
But the regional mood has turned toward diplomacy since the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, which set off a series of diplomatic moves culminating in the Trump-Kim meet.