Brexit talks are locked in stalemate over disagreements about how much the UK should pay the EU as a divorce settlement.
The latest round of discussions has ended with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirming that in his view insufficient progress had been made to trigger talks about a trade deal between Britain and the bloc.
But the British government is loading stress on the negotiators by hinting that Westminster is ready to split from the EU without a deal with Prime Minister Theresa May reiterating that in her view, no deal was better than a bad one for Britain.
The sticking point is how much Britain is ready to pay the EU to cover financial commitments already made.
Barnier said: “I am not able in the current circumstances to propose next week to the European Council that we should start discussions on the future relationship.”
Spirit of co-operation
He agreed May’s Florence speech had triggered a move forward, but he considered Britain’s stand on the divorce bill as “disturbing”.
Barnier will now report back to EU leaders at a summit next week.
They will decide if they should start trade talks or whether to wait until closer agreement is reached on the divorce bill.
Their own timetable calls for Barnier to present a draft Brexit deal by October 2018 to be passed by the date Britain is scheduled to quit Europe in March 2019.
Brexit Secretary David Davis urged EU leaders at the summit to give Mr Barnier a mandate to start trade talks and to “build on the spirit of co-operation we now have”.
Barnier was less hopeful because negotiators had not discussed the divorce bill in the latest round of talks.
“On this question we have reached a state of deadlock which is very disturbing for thousands of project promoters in Europe and it’s disturbing also for taxpayers,” he said.
However, both sides seem to be playing a game of brinkmanship.
Britain will not divulge how much the country is willing to pay the EU before finding out what the terms of a trade deal will look like. Meanwhile, the EU needs the cash to plug budget holes after Brexit but won’t talk trade until they know how much they will get.