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'Brexit lunch' to assess talks progress

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Brussels (AFP)

Britain and the EU will wrap up four days of tough Brexit talks in Brussels on Thursday with a special lunch between their chief negotiators as major differences emerged on key points.

The two sides remain far apart on the exit bill that the EU says Britain must pay and on whether or not the bloc's top court will keep jurisdiction over European citizens living in Britain, sources close to the talks said.

To discuss progress, Brexit minister David Davis will host his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier at the British ambassador's residence for a meal of Scottish scallops followed by lamb, a British official said.

The lunch will be the two negotiators' first discussion on what is officially British soil after all their previous talks took place at the headquarters of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

They will also hold a joint press conference, while the two sides may also issue a statement together on the progress so far.

Davis himself has only been in Brussels on Monday and Thursday, with a team of 98 British negotiators looking after most of the talks in the interim on his behalf.

The talks are dealing with issues around Britain's divorce -- Britain's exit bill, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, and the Northern Ireland border -- with talks on a future trade deal only set to start if leaders decide in October there has been "sufficient progress".

This week's negotiations have been "positive, robust and respectful" with some common ground but some major differences, the sources close to the negotiations said.

- Sticking points -

For example, Britain will not agree on any figure for the bill the EU says it must pay to leave until right at the end of the talks, due in late 2018, they said.

The EU says Britain owes a net amount of around 100 billion euros in commitments it made as a member state under the bloc's multi-year budget.

On the rights of the three million Europeans living in Britain and one million Britons in the EU, the issue of whether the European Court of Justice will keep jurisdiction over them remains a key sticking point.

On the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, there has been "goodwill" over maintaining the Good Friday peace agreement and on keeping the common travel area on the island, sources said.

Barnier has said he wants an outline deal by October 2018 so it can be passed by the European and British parliaments in time for Brexit day, which is expected at the end of March 2019.

British officials meanwhile rejected "ludicrous" reports that it had come into the talks underprepared, following a photograph of an empty-handed Davis on Monday across the table from Barnier, who had a stack of papers.

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