UK PM Theresa May calls for ′urgency′ in Brexit talks | News | DW | 19.10.2017
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UK PM Theresa May calls for 'urgency' in Brexit talks

Prime Minister Theresa May has urged a summit of European leaders to lay out a plan for Brexit negotiations to move forward. But her EU counterparts say they first need to see more concrete offerings from the UK's side.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told leaders gathered for a two-day summit in Brussels on Thursday that she wanted to set "ambitious plans for the weeks ahead."

The UK is hoping to reach an agreement with the leaders of the 27 EU member states to allow formal negotiations about Britain's future economic relationship with the bloc to proceed. Before that happens, however, EU negotiators say they need to see more progress on three main issues: citizens' rights post-Brexit, Britain's divorce bill, and what will happen with the UK-Irish border.

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Are Theresa May's days numbered?

While it appeared all but certain there would be no agreement before the summit's conclusion, May called for swift progress, adding that she hoped leaders would be in a position to approve the next phase of Brexit discussions when they next meet in December.    

"I particularly ... want to see an urgency in reaching an agreement on citizens' rights," May said.

Read more: What's the 'no deal' fallout for the UK and EU?

EU: Where's the detail?

EU leaders at the summit welcomed May's approach, but pointed out there was still more work to be done.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the progress made thus far — while not enough — showed some "encouraging" signs that talks could move on to future trade ties in December.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Britain's proposal was lacking in specifics.

"What they (Britain) always say is that they want to continue to have the closest possible relationship with Europe and with Ireland," he said.

"We already have the closest possible relationship: it's called the European Union. And I think we need a little bit more detail — a lot more detail, in fact — on how you can square the idea of the closest possible relationship with the circle of the fact that they are departing from that."

Infografik Brexit Timeline Englisch

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said May "hasn't been able to produce" any details on a possible financial settlement.

"I called her (May) and said: Listen, we need more clarity, specifically about the bill," Rutte told reporters in Brussels.

"The British must be very clear on the exit bill."

May will leave the summit Friday morning, after which EU leaders are expected to approve a statement noting that talks have not yet made enough progress for them to unlock negotiations about a future trade relationship.

Open letter

Of the key points of contention, EU negotiators agree that the rights that EU and UK citizens would have once the UK leaves the bloc in 2019 is the most advanced. Discussions on the bill Britain must pay to leave, meanwhile, are proving more difficult — Germany and France insist that there should be no impact on the EU's budget from Britain's departure. The border between Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland is another crucial issue that needs to be resolved.

Ahead of her trip to Brussels, May published an open letter on her Facebook page seeking to reassure the some 3 million European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom that they will be able to remain there post-Brexit.

"EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay," she said, adding that her government and the EU were in "touching distance of agreement" on the issue of citizens’ rights.

She wrote that the country would develop a digital process for EU residents to apply for "settled status" — a post-Brexit category for EU citizens who have lived continuously in the UK for five years before a yet-to-be-determined cut-off date and who wish to remain.

However she did not provide more on detail on the criteria surrounding how the government would calculate continued residency. The ability for settled status individuals to bring family members to the UK was also not addressed.

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EU leaders meet to discuss Brexit

Agreement is but weeks away…

The EU has regarded May's prior assurances on citizens' rights until now as unsatisfactory. In addition, she has been accused of using EU citizens as "bargaining chips," a criticism which she sought to deflect in her open letter.

"I have been clear throughout this process that citizens' rights are my first priority, May wrote in her letter. "And I know my fellow leaders have the same objective: to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU.

To crash or not to crash?

In an interview with German daily Die Welt, lead UK Brexit negotiator David Davis said he believed that the UK had fulfilled its promises thus far. 

"We think we made progress," he said, but then pointed out it was in the European Council's power to decide if this was true or not.

David added that Britain would meet its financial "international obligations" but that a judgement on how much the UK owes to the EU "should be informed by everything, informed by the whole deal, not informed by a figure picked out of the air."

The British government at times has struggled to give an appearance of unity in negotiations.

On the same day as May's Brussels highly anticipated trip, leader of Britain's parliamentary opposition Andrea Leadsom said that the body would not discuss the EU withdrawal bill before representatives left for their autumn recess next week. She told lawmakers that, "There is nothing odd or anything to fear from this slight pause."

The legislation, known as the Great Repeal Bill, would transpose much of EU law onto British books in order to ensure as seamless a transition as possible. However, concern has been growing that political divisions over its content could complicate May's ability to complete a negotiated Brexit.

In addition, fears have been voiced on both the EU and the UK side that if an agreement is not reached shortly with enough time to set up its implementation, then the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal come March 2019. 

Some politicians from May's conservative party, including former Treasury head Nigel Lawsom and ex-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, have also urged May to turn her back on the negotiation table if a breakthrough does not materialize.

nm, cmb/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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