The EU’s chief negotiator irritably snapped “Brexit is not a game – don’t forget that” when asked by a reporter how he viewed the current status of the negotiations.
Yesterday Theresa May told the British parliament that the “ball is in the EU’s court” following her Florence speech, which contained a number of notable UK pledges.
She indicated that she has compromised as far as she is willing to with admissions that Britain will honours its financial commitments and seek a transition deal on membership terms.
The British side is now waiting for Brussels, and in particular the EU leaders who meet for a summit later this month, to come back with proposals to their own to unblock the talks.
Emerging from a lunch with Mr Davis, at which the pair dined on sea bass and Scottish beef and quaffed English and French sparkling wine, Mr Barnier said: “Lunch was good and we had constructive talks, not the first time not the last time. We are working.”
As he walked away he was asked whose court he felt the Brexit ball was in. The Frenchman strode back down the street, before wagging his finger and replying: “Brexit is not a game. Don’t forget that.”
Mrs May’s comments yesterday sparked a humorous tit-for-tat response from the EU Commission, whose spokesman Margaritis replied to reporters that Brexit was “not exactly a ball game”.
But he then added: “There’s a clear sequencing of these talks and there’s 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.”
Asked during a press conference in Brussels where he judged the ball to be today, the Greek official replied: “I think we have had enough of metaphors but our point remains the same.
On the same issue a senior EU diplomat said yesterday: “It’s not like a sport with winners and losers. We hope to make some progress on a few sets of issues.”
He added that there will be no negotiating on the controversial Brexit bill this week – just technical discussions on how it could be calculated – and that the European side do not expect significant progress to be made in this week’s talks.
On top of the stand-off over the financial settlement, which Britain is refusing to pay until it gets reassurance on trade talks – there are also four key areas of disputes on citizens’ rights.
The diplomat said that the UK and EU sides are still far apart on the rights of EU citizens to send benefits back home after Brexit, the jurisdiction of the ECJ, family reunification rules and the UK’s new proposed settled status.
He concluded: “Clearly we don’t have sufficient progress. We’re also not there in terms of citizens’ rights. That’s where we stand and we won’t stand somewhere [else] at the end of the week.”
The remarks came as British and EU negotiators prepared to take a day off from negotiating tomorrow, with no talks scheduled for Wednesday before Mr Barnier and Davis Davis give an update report on Thursday.
Mr Schinas said: “Our teams are available 24/7 and I would say that the timing of talks depends on the availability of the UK partners and that explains where we stand in terms of presence, who speaks to whom and how these negotiations will advance.”
A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said: “The talks this week were a mutually agreed programme designed to give both sides the best chance to make progress. We have always been clear that we are ready to negotiate at any time.”