Politics

TUSK CAVES IN: EU prepares for UK trade talk as member states panic at Brexit deadlock

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European Council President Donald Tusk has asked the 27 EU states to start discussing trade internally ahead of next week’s summit, a draft document has revealed.

In a news conference yesterday, EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned talks on the first phase were still “deadlocked” over the divorce bill, describing the stalemate as “disturbing”.

Mr Barnier said he hoped “decisive progress” by December would allow talks of a post-Brexit deal to finally begin.

Donald Tusk is keen on a trade deal.•EPA

Donald Tusk is keen on a trade deal

But Mr Tusk’s document is more upbeat, talking of good progress and the hope of trade talks beginning soon with “internal preparatory discussions” by EU officials in the meantime.

The report notes there has been “considerable” progress in negotiations.

It follows a whirlwind tour of member states by Mr Tusk, suggesting nations have pressured him to speed up work on a trade deal.

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In the document, the president said he welcomed progress made on EU citizens’ rights but was now looking for “legal certainty and guarantees” alongside details of the administrative processes the UK would carry out.

On another of the EU’s red lines, the Irish border, Mr Tusk wrote there had been some movement, but the bloc wanted the UK to “present and commit to flexible and imaginative solutions” that would avoid a hard border.

Crucially, on the Brexit bill, Mr Tuk said there had still been no “firm and concrete commitment from the UK to settle all of these obligations”.

David Davis and Michel Barnier.

David Davis and Michel Barnier at their Brexit news conference

Donald Tusk met Theresa May at Downing Street.

Donald Tusk met Theresa May at Downing Street

Appearing to rule out any formal trade talks this month, he said progress on the three issues would be reassessed by the European Council in December.

But he added the EU was keen to move to the second phase of the negotiations “as soon as possible”.

EU officials will discuss the draft document, which is still subject to change, in Brussels this morning.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Barnier said lack of progress on the Brexit bill meant he could not recommend moving on from divorce talks to discussions about future trade relations when leaders of the EU states meet in Brussels on October 19.

The recommendation appeared to heighten pressure on the Government and under-fire Chancellor Philip Hammond, to make preparations for a “no deal” Brexit.

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Brexit Secretary David Davis made clear that the UK will press the other EU leaders to broaden Mr Barnier's remit, allowing him to begin exploring the nature of a transition to the future UK/EU relationship before finalising details of the withdrawal agreement.

And, in yet another intervention, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was time to “put a tiger in the tank” by showing greater urgency in the negotiations.

He told a London press conference: “We are looking for some urgency from our friends and partners and it's time, I think, to put a bit of a tiger in the tank and get this thing done.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: "We've been clear that we want to move on to discussions on the implementation period and our future relationship.

“We hope the EU27 now give Michel Barnier the means to open up discussions to allow the momentum we've established to continue."

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