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--Says Settlement Political Not Legal; Blames EU For Holding Up Talks
By Kieran Williams and Jean Comte
     LONDON (MNI) - Talks on a future deal will hopefully be completed by
October 2018 said Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis at a Lords
European Union Select Committee. 
Davis adduced that this is what he believes is the preferable timetable for the
EU as this would mean that European Parliament could vote on the deal in
December or January, whereas the UK could vote sooner on the deal. Cautious not
to sound too optimistic though Davis said "if we hit October though, no one
would be happier than me."
     After comments from Davis at the Treasury Select Committee last week that a
vote in parliament could come after the UK had left the EU, Davis was careful
not to be led into hypothetical scenarios. 
     Davis said that the withdrawal agreement would probably be more beneficial
to the EU, while the future trade deal would be important to both sides.
     "The withdrawal agreement, on balance, will probably favour the union in
terms of things like money and so on. Whereas the future relationship will
favour both sides and will important to both of us."
     The Committee likened the financial settlement to a negotiating chip, a
dial that the UK could turn up and down to affect the outcome, but Davis
rejected this metaphor. Earlier in his testimony, however, Davis expressed a
similar sentiment when he said that UK viewed the financial settlement as a
political obligation as opposed to a legal obligation.
     The deal covering withdrawal could initially be a "political agreement"
said Davis, but noted this was more down to the stance of the EU.
     "Whether [Barnier] believes [the agreement] will be as precise as we
believe it will be, I don't know at this stage. He has used words like 'scoping'
and 'framework', rather than agreement. I take the view it's got to be an
agreement. It may be a political agreement at that stage because, as the
committee is aware, the European Union can't sign the next stage agreement with
us until we are a third country."
     Davis was asked about the story earlier on Tuesday that the government
would allow the withdrawal bill to be enshrined in law and thus scrutinised by
parliament rather than the "take it or leave it" vote originally planned.
     Davis said that the government will listen carefully to the debate on the
bill, and will use the input to accept amendments to the bill, but would not be
drawn on what amendments would be accepted.
     Talks are set to resume at the end of next week according to Davis who said
he had just come off the phone with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier. The UK
had tried to organize talks earlier according to Davis, but the EU team had
prior engagements.
     "We want to get on with the process, we are not holding up the process," he
told the committee.
     Earlier today, the EU appeared eager to blame the UK for the fact that no
negotiation round was planned. One official said that the EU proposed a
tentative schedule - one week in October, one in November, and one in December -
but didn't get any answer from the UK side.
     The official suggested that the UK was not willing to move forward on the
talks, as London will have to enter in the details of the budgetary
negotiations, and thus to make some hard proposals regarding the "Brexit bill".
     In the meantime, the Council of the EU - the EU institution that brings
member States together - is moving forward. One official told MNI that the
Brexit team began to work on the "consolidation" of the progress made in the
previous round. The idea, MNI understands, is to consolidate this progress
through a written language, that can possibly be used to draft the final
agreement at a later stage of the talk.
     As agreed at the last European Council, diplomats from the 27 member States
also began to prepare the second phase of negotiations - the one which is
supposed to come after sufficient progress are achieved on Brexit bill, citizens
rights and Northern Ireland. But the talk are at a very "exploratory" stage,
stressed one official. "It is not about setting the EU position, but mostly
about identifying the main elements that will be part of this discussion", the
source told MNI.
--MNI London Bureau; +44 203 865 3809; email: