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  1. ITV Report

Merkel: 'Encouraging' signs of progress at Brexit talks

The German chancellor Angela Merkel has talked up the "encouraging" signs of progress at Brexit talks in Brussels, which, in a boost for Theresa May, could see trade talks beginning at the next summit in December.

Britain had already given up hope of receiving a green light for trade talks at the two-day European Council meeting, after chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that insufficient progress had been made.

The British prime minister made clear she was no longer expecting a breakthrough this week, instead characterising the summit as an opportunity to "take stock" of progress so far.

Merkel has now held out the prospect that the leaders of the remaining 27 EU states may be ready to kick off trade talks at their next scheduled summit, telling reporters that enough progress had been made to encourage her to think it will be possible to "take the work forward and then reach the start of the second phase in December".

Theresa May played down Brexit as one of a 'variety of issues' to be discussed in Brussels

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she is seeking an "urgency" to reach an agreement on EU citizens rights to build on "concrete progress" already made in Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May said Brexit was only one of a "variety of issues" she would discuss with fellow leaders as she arrived at a European Council summit in Brussels.

She said "cooperation" with other nations on issues like defence and security remains "at the heart" of Britain's foreign policy irrespective of 2019's scheduled split from the European Union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also in the Belgian capital to hold a series of meetings with key figures, including EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mr Corbyn, pictured with chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in July. Credit: AP

He will also meet three EU prime ministers and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani and declare Labour ready to "take up responsibility" for negotiations the PM's team is "bungling".

Mrs May will later make a new appeal to the 27 leaders of the remaining EU member states in a speech over dinner.

She will urge them to begin discussions among themselves so talks can begin "as soon as possible".

The prime minister suggested the issue of citizens rights could soon be resolved, in an open letter on Facebook hours before leaving for Brussels.

  • Read the PM's full Facebook post at the end of this article
Theresa May faces Brexit disappointment at an upcoming EU summit despite optimism in her letter. Credit: PA

She said the UK government and EU leaders are "in touching distance" of a deal as she promised the three million EU citizens living in Britain she will make it as easy as possible for them to stay after Brexit.

Speaking to ITV News, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said Mrs May and her team are looking to give "some real momentum" to the negotiations.

"(The PM is) asking our colleagues across Europe to be ambitious as well about moving forward with these negotiations," he said.

Mr Lewis said he was "optimistic" an agreement can be made for the "valued and welcome" 3.4 million EU citizens in the UK to stay.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said on Wednesday he will recommend the EU begins "internal preparations for talks on the transition and the future relationship".

These could begin at the next scheduled summit in December - but he warned this would require "more concrete proposals from the British side".

The comments reflect pressure from Brussels for further UK concessions on a so-called "divorce bill" which could reach 60 billion euros (£53bn).

Donald Tusk's latest comments reflect pressure for further UK concessions on the 'divorce bill'. Credit: PA
  • What did Theresa May pledge in her Facebook letter?

The prime minister's open letter - which is also being posted to 100,000 EU nationals - saw her promise to involve EU expats in the design of a "streamlined" digital process for registering to remain.

She said representatives of EU nationals will be invited to sit on a User Group which will meet regularly to iron out any problems with the process of applying for the new "settled status" to remain in the UK.

The cost of registration will be kept "as low as possible" and it will be made simple to swap permanent residence rights for settled status, she said.

Expats will also no longer have to show they have comprehensive sickness insurance.

We are in touching distance of agreement.

I know both sides will consider each other's proposals for finalising the agreement with an open mind.

And with flexibility and creativity on both sides, I am confident that we can conclude discussions on citizens' rights in the coming weeks.

– Theresa May, in open letter to EU citizens in the UK

Britain wants to offer the new status to EU citizens with five years' residence and is aiming to start registrations at the end of next year.

Mrs May has so far refused to give the three million EU nationals an unconditional right to stay until similar rights are granted to more than one million Britons living on the continent.

Read the full letter below:

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