The EU is set to delay Brexit transition talks, in a fresh blow to Theresa May

Theresa MayChristopher Furlong/Getty ImagesPrime Minister Theresa May addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

LONDON — The European Union plans to reject Britain’s request to finalise the terms of a transition deal before the end of the year, in what would be a major blow to Theresa May’s plan for Brexit.

The Prime Minister wants to move the protracted talks on to a future UK-EU trading relationship as soon as possible, but has struggled to get past the “divorce” phase of negotiation.

British businesses are keen for May and her government to make clear what Britain’s trade relationship with the EU will be from the second it officially leaves at the end of March 2019.

In a recent speech in Florence, May said that Britain wants a two-year transitional phase in which access to the European single market can continue on the terms it currently has as an EU member state.

Her government has also made it clear that it believes talks on trade must begin as soon as possible in order for progress to be made, and cannot be regarded as separate from other issues under discussion.

However, according to The Times newspaper, a recent meeting of European ministers, diplomats, and business groups made clear that the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is unlikely to conclude that “sufficient progress” has been made for talks on trade to get underway next week.

The EU has been insistent that talks on trade cannot begin until “sufficient progress” is has been made on the issues of the Irish border, citizens’ rights, and Britain’s financial obligations to the EU.

Barnier said last month that it could take “weeks or even months” for Brexit negotiations to move beyond this opening stage and onto trade.

France, Germany and Romania have all opposed an attempt to move Brexit negotiations onto the subject of future UK-EU trade ties later this month, the Times report claims, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

The source said that Germany is keen for the EU to spend at least three months establishing a common position on transition, adding that “Germany is hostile and has told the others that it is not going to happen.”

Confusion over May’s transition plans

Back in Westminster, there are still big question marks over what Prime Minister May wants the transition phase to entail — specifically whether Britain will remain inside the European single market during that time.

Yesterday Labour MP Ed Miliband invited May to clarify what she meant in her Florence speech when she claimed that Britain will seek to continue the “current terms” of its single market access during the transition phase.

The PM reiterated that she wants to negotiate maximum market access but did not clarify whether this meant staying in the single market.

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