EU ‘completely united’ ahead of Brexit talks


LUXEMBOURG: The EU is “completely united” on Brexit ahead of a summit this weekend when leaders will approve red lines for two years of tough talks with London, the bloc’s presidency said Thursday.
Ministers from the remaining 27 countries formally met without Britain for the first time for a final check of the guidelines before Saturday’s summit in Brussels.
“It seems that at the moment we are completely united on everything,” Maltese deputy prime minister Louis Grech, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters at the meeting in Luxembourg when asked if there were any divisions.
“Naturally we have to protect the EU’s interests.”
In recent days the European Union has hardened its position in the negotiating guidelines for what promise to be difficult talks ahead of Britain’s departure from the bloc in March 2019.
It made new demands on Britain’s financial services industry, on EU citizens having the right to permanent residence after living in Britain for five years, and on the need for Britain’s exit bill to cover the EU’s budget up to 2020, a year after Britain leaves.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said “we are ready, we are ready” when asked how preparations for the talks were going.
Barnier will officially get his mandate to start talks with London on May 22, although actual negotiations are not expected until after Britain’s general election on June 8.
Grech said Thursday’s meeting was “quite unique” as the EU 27 were formally meeting for the first time after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the two-year divorce process on March 29.
Previous such meetings without Britain since the June 2016 Brexit referendum have been informal, or not officially recognized under the EU’s rules.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Barnier held “constructive” talks with May in London on Wednesday, Juncker’s spokesman said.
Juncker stressed the EU’s position that Britain must agree on the terms of the divorce, including its exit bill, before talks on any future EU-UK trade deal can start.
But he said it was “not realistic” to expect an agreement on future EU-UK relations by September or October 2018, which Brussels says is the latest to allow any deal to be approved by the European Parliament.