EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline
EU's Barnier gives Britain two-week Brexit deadline
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.
Afghan vote enters second day after series of bloody attacks, claims of mismanagement
- Election Commission said more than three million people out of 8.8 million managed to cast their vote on Saturday
- On Sunday the Election Commission sent more ballot papers for 401 polling stations where people could not vote owing to attacks and irregularities
KABUL: Voting resumed for a second day on Sunday in Afghanistan where the process was marred by bloody attacks and claims of massive irregularities that deprived hundreds of thousands of people of votes for a new parliament.
The mismanagement claims have been seen as another sign of the government’s inefficiency in holding the ballot, which already has faced a delay of more than three years and comes six months ahead of the presidential vote.
The government said it added several thousand more forces to the 50,000 troops already deployed, to further protect some of the sites where polls could not be held on Saturday.
The Election Commission said more than three million people out of 8.8 million managed to cast their vote on Saturday and that on Sunday it had sent sufficient ballot papers and deployed officials to cover for 401 polling stations where people could not vote because of attacks and irregularities the previous day.
Ali Reza Rohani, a spokesman for the Electoral Complaints Commission, said in a news conference on Sunday that the irregularities that took place on Saturday would “damage the transparency” of the elections.
He said biometric devices, put in place to curb fraud, could not work in some stations, including Kabul, and various stations had not received the list of voters who had registered months ago for the ballot.
He said some stations opened an hour late.
The election is seen as key for Afghanistan’s political stability and legitimacy.
The government had already announced that polls could not take place in more than 2,000 voting stations because of security threats.
The Taliban staged scores of attacks on Saturday in a number of provinces including Kabul where at least 18 people died in two strikes. Unofficial estimates showed that over 70 civilians were killed and more than 300 wounded.
The casualties and irregularities were both unprecedented compared to election-related problems and violence that had happened in all of the previous rounds of elections held since the Taliban’s ouster.
Transparent Election Foundations of Afghanistan (TEFA), a polls watchdog, in its latest finding while citing the irregularities, said it could not operate fully to observe the process on Saturday because of security threats and because it was barred by the election commission and government from having access to election centers.
“It created many challenges for TEFA’s observers, for instance, 65 percent of our female observers left the polling centers because of security reasons, and unavailability of cellular connections in some of the provinces,” it said in a statement.
“In 29 percent of the polling centers, our observers were not allowed by IEC workers, security forces and armed men to observe the counting process.”