Brexit: EU-27 agree 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
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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 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 the guidelines first issued on 31 March by Mr Tusk.

Talks with the UK will begin after the general election 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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In a letter to the leaders of the EU-27 ahead of the summit, Mr Tusk wrote that progress on “people, money and Ireland” must come before negotiations on the EU’s future relationship with the UK.

As she arrived in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that only once substantial progress had been made on the separation talks with the UK could negotiations turn to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

EU states adamant: Kevin Connolly, BBC Europe correspondent

Europe’s leaders came to demonstrate unity in the face of the Brexit challenge and they duly did.

They even announced that it only took them a minute to agree their negotiating guidelines. That’s not a big surprise – today’s gathering in Brussels was always going to be an exercise in rubber-stamping. But stressing how quickly it went through on the nod reinforces the point.

The 27 EU Remainer states are adamant that Britain will pay a price for leaving and will be worse off outside than the union than it is on the inside.

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 EU’s unity might be tested on the issue of the rights of its citizens in the UK, where countries like Poland and Lithuania – which are directly affected – might want a better deal that richer countries which are not.

The separation talks will seek to 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, Mr Tusk wrote.

However, the UK government has said made clear that it want talks on trade relations to run in parallel with the separation negotiations.

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.”

EU officials estimate that the UK 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.

Reports say Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny will also 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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