Sun, Oct 15, 2017 - Page 5 News List

EU plans Brexit gesture, May hints on payments

Reuters, BRUSSELS

Britain would be offered a goodwill gesture at a EU summit next week, European nations agreed on Friday, seeking to break the deadlock over Brexit, but no watering down of their demand for tens of billions of euros they say Britain owes.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also said she might make a move at next week’s summit.

A spokeswoman said “there will be more to say there” on a promise May made last month to honor financial commitments when Britain leaves.

Both sides are making the moves to end an apparent stalemate in talks on Britain’s leaving the EU.

At heart is a proposal by EU President Donald Tusk to tell May that the EU will start internal work on a post-Brexit transition plan.

“This is a very big gesture toward Britain, maybe way too big,” a senior EU diplomat said ahead of an evening meeting of envoys from the 27 remaining EU states to discuss Tusk’s draft for a statement to made after leaders meet in a week’s time.

Ambassadors broadly agreed the plan on Friday, despite skepticism, including from powerhouse Germany.

They requested some harder language to ram home that any offer is conditional on Britain making progress toward agreeing Brussels’ terms.

“Time is running out,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman had said after weeks of stalemate in negotiations and faction-fighting within May’s government that have raised concerns that talks could collapse, leaving Britain bumping out into legal limbo in March 2019.

Hammering the point, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in Luxembourg: “They have to pay. They have to pay.”

Underscoring tensions, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond referred to the EU as “the enemy” at one point, but then apologized.

His remark came as he defended himself against accusations from hardline Brexit supporters who say he is soft on Brussels.

Businesses planning investment decisions are calling for a clear idea by the new year of how the split and subsequent years of transition to a new trade relationship will function.

Otherwise, some firms say, they might assume a disruptive “hard Brexit” and move some operations to Europe.

As the process approaches the halfway stage between June last year’s referendum vote for Brexit and Britain’s departure on March 30, 2019, tensions are building not just between the two negotiating sides, but also within the EU.

While hardliners would prefer less or no talk of a future after Brexit and more about demanding money, others are keen to give May, beleaguered at home, something to show for the effort to compromise she displayed in a speech at Florence, Italy, last month.

One diplomat called the draft a “search-and-rescue mission” to help the British prime minister out of a jam.

Diplomats said Germany and France on Friday coordinated to limit any watering down of the EU position that EU Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier cannot so much as mention to his British counterparts what might come after Brexit until leaders deem there has been “sufficient progress” on three issues the EU says must be settled before Britain leaves.

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