Estonian minister Matti Maasikas, representing the European Council, said time is running out to secure a breakthrough and that officials need more “precise” commitments in the coming weeks.
He rammed home his point by stressing that foreign ministers who met at 27 in Brussels today had not discussed internal scoping on a transition and future trade deal because they are not satisfied with progress.
Mr Maasikas’ remarks came just hours after the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier delivered an uncompromising speech warning Britain that it faces “consequences” as a result of its decision to leave.
Today one of the first concrete impacts of Brexit was undertaken in Brussels as the other 27 EU states voted to remove the European Medicines Agency and European Banking Authority from London.
The EMA will go to Amsterdam whilst the EBA will go to Paris, with the latter decision likely to especially irk some in the UK given France’s open courting of British financial firms over the last year.
And to compound that snub, appearing at a press conference in Brussels tonight Mr Maasikas delivered a downbeat assessment of whether or not trade talks will be unlocked in December.
He said: “We did not discuss the internal preparations for the transitional period and future relationship as we are still in the first phase of the negotiations.
“The EU27 are united and fully back the work of our chief negotiator Michel Barnier. It’s too early to call if we’ll get to the second phase in December, but time is running and the next weeks are essential.”
Asked what Britain needs to do to unlock sufficient progress, he replied: “What our chef negotiator told us. He will need a clear commitment that obviously goes beyond Florence, is more precise than given in Florence and he will need it very soon.
“We are working under huge time pressure here. Preparing for the European Council decisions takes time so the sooner the better.”
Mr Maasikas was also pressed on whether or not the decisions to relocate the two EU agencies would be null and void in the event of Britain reversing Brexit, but said he would not speculate on “hypothetical scenarios”.
The Brexit talks are currently deadlocked in particular over the issue of a financial settlement, with Britain refusing to commit to coughing up cash until it receives reassurances over trade.
This has infuriated EU leaders and officials, who see the issue of UK commitments to the budget as a “past debt” which must be settled before they will consider any future partnership.
Mr Barnier said today: “Our priority on settling the accounts accurately. We owe this to taxpayers as well as to all those benefiting from EU funding projects in the UK as well as in the EU.”
Both Britain and the EU had hoped to push on and achieve sufficient progress next month after the PM’s Florence speech, which included commitments on cash and a transition, created a “new dynamic” in the talks.
However, since then the divorce proceedings have gone flat with the EU concerned about the non-concrete nature of British commitments and the UK complaining that Brussels has not been prepared to meet it halfway.