Despite positive signals coming out of the European Union's Brexit summit on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron said "there is a lot of work still to be done" on negotiating Britain's exit from the EU in the next 18 months.
After May left on Friday morning, the other 27 EU leaders took less than two minutes to endorse a prepared statement that Britain had failed to make “sufficient progress” to move on to phase two of negotiations, which involves post-Brexit trade and economic relations.
Before doing so, both sides will need to settle three key issues for a withdrawal treaty – namely what rights EU citizens will retain in Britain, a new border regime for the frontier between Northern Ireland and the EU, and Britain's so-called Brexit bill, which the EU estimates at €60-100 billion ($70-120 billion) but which London says is closer to €20 billion.
Officials are "optimistic" - Charles Grant, analyst at Centre for European Research
Internal ‘green light’
However, EU leaders gave themselves an internal “green light” to start discussing phase two among themselves, ordering EU negotiators to start preparing Brussels' lists of demands for any transitional period.
Hopes are high that phase two will begin by the end of the year.
“Officials I talk to, in both the UK government and the European Commission, are fairly optimistic that in December the EU will declare that sufficient progress has been made [to move onto phase two]," said Charles Grant, an analyst at the Centre for European Reform in London, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “But of course that is not certain," he added.
“We would hope that we would be ready in December to initiate phase two," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters at the end of the two-day summit in Brussels on Friday. “This depends to a large extent on Britain making what we can call 'sufficient' progress. The topic of financial commitment is, of course, the dominating issue in that regard.”
“It is the money issue which is really snagging,” said FRANCE 24 international affairs editor Armen Georgian. “That is apparently what is stopping the EU from moving to phase two.”
"It is the money issue which is really snagging" - FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor Armen Georgian.
‘These talks are moving forward step by step’
Merkel also said she believed negotiations between the EU and Britain were moving forward and dismissed the prospect of a breakdown in talks.
“In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward, step by step,” Merkel said, dismissing suggestions from some in Britain that the talks might be broken off as “absurd”.
In a similar vein, president of the European Council Donald Tusk said that the gap between Britain and the EU in Brexit talks has narrowed and is not as great as many once believed.
“Reports of a deadlock between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been exaggerated,” he told a news conference in Brussels at the end of the summit.
"It's not sewn up enough for the EU to say they're ready to move on" - FRANCE 24 European Affairs Editor Catherine Nicholson
For her part, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain and the European Union "still have some way to go" if they want the Brexit talks to move onto the issue of trade by the end of December.
She said both sides were within “touching distance” on citizens’ rights but still had more work to do on settling questions regarding the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and agreeing on an exit bill for Britain.
“Once again, it’s not concrete; it’s not sewn up enough for the EU to say they’re ready to move on,” said FRANCE 24 European affairs editor Catherine Nicholson.
Macron said that May had never mentioned the possibility of Britain walking away from the EU without a deal in place by the two-year deadline on March 29, 2019 – adding that any consideration of that option would merely be “bluffing”.
"Everybody is convinced that we have to open the negotiations" - Christian Lequesin, European affairs expert at Sciences Po.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-10-20