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  1. ITV Report

EU open to talking trade before Brexit divorce deal is finalised

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen

The EU is willing to discuss a future trade deal with the UK once "sufficient progress is made" on the terms of Brexit, according to its strategy for negotiations.

The draft Brussels guidelines, outlined by European Council president Donald Tusk, said withdrawal talks - which include the disputed £50 billion "divorce bill" - clearly came ahead of forging a new relationship with Britain.

"Starting parallel talks on both issues at the same time, as suggested by some in the UK, will not happen," Mr Tusk said.

But the plans appear to go a small way to placating Prime Minister Theresa May's request to discuss both issues in tandem during the two-year negotiations.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande opposed Theresa May's proposed timetable for talks. Credit: PA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande previously threw their weight behind the separation talks being entirely settled before any discussion on trade.

Mr Tusk said he hoped a judgement could be made in the autumn on whether sufficient progress had been made in talks to enable trade negotiations to begin.

The key guidelines, which represent the Council's formal response to Article 50 being triggered, stated:

  • The EU is ready to open talks on a future trade deal within the two-year talks "as soon as sufficient progress is made" on the divorce terms
  • The EU prioritises "an orderly withdrawal" through a phased approach
  • The first phase aims to settle the terms of the UK's removal from the rights and obligations derived from membership
  • The settlement talks will provide "as much clarity and legal certainty as possible" to citizens and businesses
  • Talks must deliver "flexible and imaginative solutions" to avoid a hard border being created between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  • Only once "sufficient progress" has been achieved on this phase will talks move on to the future relationship
  • The EU-UK free trade deal cannot offer partial access to the single market
  • Brexit cannot offer the UK the same benefits as EU members

Mr Tusk said the Brexit negotiations were a matter of "damage control" and would be "difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational".

But he said the EU will not punish UK in the exit talks, saying Brexit itself is "punitive enough".

EU Presidency chief Joseph Muscat, speaking alongside Mr Tusk in Malta, said Brexit negotiations will be tough but "it will not be a war".

EU Presidency chief Joseph Muscat played down talk of confrontations escalating in the talks.

Leaders of the 27 remaining member states will receive the draft guidelines before they are expected to be formally adopted at an EU summit at the end of April.

Mr Tusk confirmed he will visit Mrs May in London before the April 29 summit.

Responding to the announcement, a government spokesman said: "These are draft guidelines and we look forward to beginning negotiations once they have been formally agreed by the 27 member states.

The draft guidelines on negotiations after Britain's invoking of Article 50 will be sent to the 27 remaining member states. Credit: AP

"It is clear both sides wish to approach these talks constructively, and as the Prime Minister said this week, wish to ensure a deep and special partnership between the UK and the European Union."

Mrs May has said she recognises Britain will accept a "fair (separation) settlement" but said it will fall well short of the £50 billion purportedly proposed by officials in Brussels.

Mr Tusk rejected claims that interpreted the prime minister's recent comments on security as a "bargaining chip" in negotiations.

Donald Tusk rejected claims that Theresa May could use security as a bargaining chip. Credit: PA

Mrs May statement that cross-border efforts to tackle terrorism and crime will be "weakened" if the UK is forced to quit the EU without an agreement raised claims of "blackmail" as it ruffled feathers in Brussels.

"I know Theresa May well enough and I know her approach to this issue," Mr Tusk said.

"This is why I rule out this kind of interpretation and speculation that security co-operation is used as a bargaining chip."

European Council president Donald Tusk insists the 27 member states are united ahead of the exit talks with the UK. Credit: PA

Downing Street denied it was attempting to use Britain's much-envied intelligence-gathering capabilities as a lever in the negotiations.

Mrs May made her timetable request in her formal Article 50 letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday.

Mr Tusk, who spoke as he attended a gathering of EU centre-right leaders in Malta, previously insisted the member states were unified.

"Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before. I am fully confident of this," he said on Thursday.