Tusk warns 'dramatically difficult' to reach Brexit deal by March 2019


Brussels (AFP)

EU President Donald Tusk warned Friday it would be "dramatically difficult" to reach a final Brexit deal by March 2019 as he said the bloc would begin "exploratory contacts" with Britain over its future relationship.

European Union leaders agreed to open the next stage of divorce talks with London at a summit in Brussels on Friday, endorsing an interim deal covering citizens' rights, the Irish border and Britain's exit bill.

"It is now time for internal EU 27 preparations and exploratory contacts with the UK to get more clarity on their vision," Tusk told reporters at the end of the summit.

But while talks will begin in January on a post-Brexit transition period of around two years, actual negotiations on future trade ties would not start until March.

Tusk warned that the next stage of talks would be even harder than the tortuous six months of negotiations that led to last Friday's interim accord

Asked if a final deal by March 2019 -- Britain's exit date -- could be achieved, Tusk insisted it was "still realistic and of course dramatically difficult".