Thursday 21 November 2019

Insufficient progress made in Brexit talks to discuss UK-EU trade, Tusk warns

British prime minister Theresa May greets Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, at 10 Downing Street
British prime minister Theresa May greets Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, at 10 Downing Street

Joe Watts

European Council President Donald Tusk has warned there isn't "sufficient progress" by the UK in talks to break the Brexit deadlock.

After meeting Theresa May in Downing Street yesterday, he said there were signs the UK now had a more "realistic" position and that the prime minister appeared to have abandoned a "having her cake and eating it" approach to Brexit.

But he said he would tell member states there has still not been enough progress towards the EU's objectives to allow negotiations to move to discussing the future trade deal the UK desires.

It follows Mrs May's speech in Florence, in which she proposed a Brexit transition period of two years during which the UK would pay into EU coffers and remain in the single market and customs union.

British officials hoped the speech would help to break a deadlock in talks and mean discussions could move on to future relations. But at the start of the fourth round of Brexit talks on Monday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the UK would have to give a stronger commitment on settling its financial obligations to the EU, before any transition was discussed.

Leaving No 10, Mr Tusk backed Mr Barnier, saying: "If you ask me, and if today member states ask me, I would say there is no sufficient progress yet, but we will work on it."

EU officials had been annoyed by suggestions from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that the UK could "have its cake and eat it" on Brexit, or have the benefits of the EU without the obligations, but Mr Tusk said that approach seemed to have ended.

He added: "The constructive and more realistic tone in the prime minister's speech in Florence and of our discussion ... shows that the philosophy of having her cake and eating it [is] finally coming at and end - at least I hope so. That's good news, but of course no one will ever tell me that Brexit is a good thing, because as I have always said in fact Brexit is all about damage control. I didn't change my opinion."

An EU source said the talks at No 10 had touched on all of the objectives that Brussels wanted met - Ireland, the UK's financial obligations, and EU citizens' rights - before talks progressed to future trade.

A No 10 spokesman said the meeting started with the prime minister restating her wish for "a bold and unique new economic partnership". The spokesman added: "The PM also stressed the importance of agreeing a period of implementation once Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. She said this would build a bridge to that new relationship that ensures the process is smooth and orderly and creates as much certainty as possible for everyone. At the end of the meeting, the PM said her Florence speech had been intended to create momentum in the ongoing talks." (© Independent News Service)

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