Brexit: EU-27 agree ‘firm’ negotiating stance

A worker leans through flags to direct people as EU leaders arrive at the Council of the European Union ahead of an EU Council meeting on April 29, 2017 in BrusselsImage copyright
Getty Images

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The leaders of the 27 remaining European Union countries gathered in Brussels

European Union leaders have unanimously agreed the negotiating guidelines for Brexit talks with the UK.

European Council President Donald Tusk, chairing the talks in Brussels, tweeted that the “firm and fair political mandate” for the talks was ready.

The 27 leaders – UK PM Theresa May was not present – approved within a minute the guidelines first issued on 31 March by Mr Tusk.

Talks with the UK will begin after the general election there on 8 June.

The deadline for completing the negotiations is 29 March 2019.

EU officials said leaders burst into applause as the negotiating stance was waved through.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said: “We are ready… we are together.”

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The guidelines set out that separation talks will agree the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, as well as Britons living in the EU, plus a settlement for the UK’s financial obligations as an EU member state. A deal must also be agreed to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Only once “sufficient progress” has been made these issues can the subject of the UK’s future relationship with the EU be discussed, according to the guidelines.

Speaking after the summit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker again stressed that separation talks could not run in parallel with talks on a future trade deal with the UK.

However, the UK government has pushed for parallel negotiations.

Mr Tusk also called on Britain to provide “real guarantees for our people to live, work and study in the UK” and similar reassurance for UK citizens living in the EU-27.

“So many people’s lives depend on it,” he told reporters.


Common purpose: Chris Morris in Brussels

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Reuters

The fact that the guidelines approved today haven’t changed all that much in the past month shows that the EU’s claim to have a unified position on Brexit is more than skin deep.

The other 27 countries do see a common purpose in sticking together; and if anything the main changes in language – on a single financial settlement and on the rights of EU citizens in the UK – toughen up the conditions that the UK will have to meet.

Of course there are differences of emphasis in different national capitals – Poland is understandably more concerned than most about the rights of its citizens in the UK because there are so many of them; the Dutch are eager to start talks on future trade relations with the UK sooner rather than later, but they also want to ensure that the UK pays its divorce bill in full.

For now the emphasis on unity is real, and the determination for the EU to negotiate as one should not be underestimated in London.


Speaking earlier, French President Francois Hollande said there would inevitably be “a price and a cost for the UK – it’s the choice that was made”.

“We must not be punitive, but at the same time it’s clear that Europe knows how to defend its interests, and that Britain the UK will have a less good position tomorrow outside the EU than today in the EU.”

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EPA

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The guidelines were rapidly approved

On the issue of the UK’s financial obligations, EU officials estimate that Britain faces a bill of €60bn (£51bn; $65bn) because of EU budget rules. UK politicians have said the government will not pay a sum of that size.

Britain certainly won’t tamely accept that it has to pay a huge divorce bill – but it’s likely to find the Europeans united on the concept if not the precise amount, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Brussels says.

Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny was also expected to ask his EU partners to back the idea of Northern Ireland automatically joining the EU if the province’s people vote to unite with the Republic.

UK Brexit Secretary David Davis has said that in the event of such a vote, Northern Ireland could become “part of an existing EU member state”.


Brexit timetable:

  • 29 April – EU leaders (excluding the UK) meet in Brussels to adopt Brexit negotiating guidelines
  • 7 May – French voters decide between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen as their next president
  • 8 June – UK parliamentary election – Brexit talks to start soon after the vote
  • 24 September – German parliamentary election, with Mrs Merkel seeking a fourth term
  • 29 March 2019 – Deadline for ending talks on UK exit terms (any extension requires agreement of all member states)
  • May or June 2019 – European Parliament election (without UK)
  • Ratification – Any Brexit deal requires ratification by all EU’s national parliaments and European Parliament

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AP

Brexit: EU-27 agree ‘firm’ negotiating stance

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