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Latest Brexit talks mark "considerable progress" although in dribs, drabs
Last Updated: 2017-09-29 08:18 | Xinhua
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BELGIUM-BRUSSELS-BREXIT TALKS-FOURTH ROUND-PRESS CONFERENCE

Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis (L) and European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier attand a press conference at the end of the fourth round of Brexit talks at the EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 28, 2017. The 4th round of Brexit talks failed again to bring long-expected concrete results from both sides of the English Channel though Davis told reporters Thursday in Brussels that "considerable progress has been made in issues that matters". (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)

The latest round of Brexit talks tried to work towards achieving concrete progress. Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis told reporters here on Thursday that "considerable progress has been made in issues that matter."

The talks, the fourth round so far, came on the heels of British Prime Minister Theresa May's high-profile speech in the Italian city of Florence spelling out Britain's plans to leave the EU.

In her speech last week, May proposed a two-year transition period after Britain left the EU in March 2019. She also pledged that Britain would pay its "fair share" into the EU budget -- a hint that London would budge on the touchy issue of the Brexit "divorce bill."

ECJ REMIT CONUNDRUM

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain agreed to honor the withdrawal agreement, which "gives the assurance to EU citizens that they will be able to invoke their rights, as defined by the withdrawal agreement, before UK courts."

"We agreed to guarantee -- for the citizens concerned -- that the UK will apply EU law concepts in a manner that is consistent with EU law after Brexit," he stated.

However, that seemed to be the extent of progress achieved.

The two sides failed to agree over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which Barnier called a "stumbling block" for the EU.

In her speech, May promised to quit the EU single market and seek a free trade agreement with the EU. She also pledged to restrict access to Britain for EU citizens and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. The 12-point blueprint was dubbed a "hard Brexit."

But May's Brexit plan has long been dubbed as "cherry-picking" in Brussels and Strasbourg, where the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain is taken as "indispensable."

Davis said both sides should be more imaginative on the issue.

"The United Kingdom thinks that in some cases we must go beyond the strict requirements of current EU law in order to protect citizens. For example, we have offered the European Union guaranteed rights of return for settled EU citizens in the UK, in return for onward movement rights for our UK nationals who currently live within the EU27," he said.

TALKS USEFUL BUT LESS ACTION

Prior to this week's negotiation, rumors were circulating that Britain proposed to pay 20 billion euros (23.6 billion U.S. dollars) for the "divorce."

In her speech in Florence, May reassured her European partners that the EU27 would not need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current EU budget plan as a result of Brexit.

Commenting on May's Brexit speech in Florence, Barnier said her speech had created a "new dynamic in talks."

Barnier, however, warned: "We will need several weeks, even several months, to be able to see sufficient progress on the principles of this orderly departure."

He also said an expert group held detailed talks on some technical aspects of the financial settlement and those talks were useful.

"This week, the UK negotiating team made clear that applying the first principle (May's principle) would be limited to 2019-2020. The UK explained also that it is not in a position yet to identify its commitments taken during membership," said Barnier, asserting that for the EU the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken between the EU28 are honored.

Davis said Britain has explained this reassurance in detail to the Commission and that Britain would honor its commitments made during the period of its membership.

But, "we are not yet at the stage of specifying exactly what these commitments are. That will need to come later," said Davis.

STEADY PROGRESS OVER IRELAND BORDER

Like it was in the last three rounds of talks, the Ireland border issue is the silver lining of Brexit negotiations.

Hailing the discussions on this issue as constructive, Davis told reporters: "We have made progress in some areas."

"Both sides recognize that the unique situation and the special circumstances on the island of Ireland must fully inform any solutions. Specifically, this week, we have begun drafting joint principles on preserving the common travel area and associated rights," said Davis, "The joint work which we agreed in the August negotiating round on preserving the North-South cooperation strand is moving along at pace."

Echoing his British counterpart, Barnier admitted that "we made progress in some areas."

"Any solution will need to be fully informed by the special circumstances on the island of Ireland and, as I mentioned several times, such solutions must respect both the integrity of the Union's legal order, and the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts," said Barnier.

"I hope that the new dynamic created by Prime Minister May's speech in Florence will continue to inform our work," he added.

The long-awaited Brexit talks launched on June 19, nearly one year after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a narrow margin on June 23, 2016.

May sent a notification letter to the EU in late March, triggering a two-year countdown to Britain's withdrawal of the bloc after more than 44 years of membership.

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