EU to delay trade talks for three months while May's government decides what they want from Brexit

  • EU leaders set to agree “sufficient progress” has been made on first phase of Brexit talks.
  • However, Theresa May has been told to clarify what future trade arrangement Britain wants before trade talks can begin.
  • The prime minister accepted priority must be given to discussing transition.
  • EU expected to confirm completion of first phase talks on Friday morning.

LONDON – The European Union has told Britain it has three months to decide what sort of future trade deal it wants before it is prepared to begin negotiating a future trade deal.

The EU council is today set to agree that “sufficient progress” has been made on Britain’s divorce agreement.

Leaders of EU member states are expected to agree on Friday morning that talks should be allowed to move onto talks over a transition period.

However, talks on a future trade deal are set to be delayed with EU leaders still uncertain as to what May’s government are hoping to achieve.

This means that full trade talks might not get underway until March, just eight months before EU leaders want a final deal to be finalised and sent off to the European Parliament for ratification.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that May must set out her plans soon.

“She’s holding her cards close to her heart at the moment, which I understand on the next phase and this is probably a wise negotiating tactic,” he said on Thursday.

“But I think we need… to understand how she sees this future relationship with the EU. It’s now for the UK to make up its mind.”

However, May is resistant to agreeing a firm position by March, amid fears that any clear line at this stage will simply re-open Cabinet tensions over Brexit.

Transition first

May told European leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday that she accepted that talks on an “implementation period,” which is May’s choice of term for a transition period, must come first..

This pledge was reportedly met with a round of applause, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I believe this is in the best interests of the UK and the European Union,” May said.

“A particular priority should be agreement on the implementation period so that we can bring greater certainty to businesses in the UK and across the 27.”

However, the prime minister was told that Britain must clarify what it wants the future relationship with the EU to be before trade talks can begin in earnest. Chancellor Philip Hammond said last week there had been no discussion within Cabinet about what it wants the endpoint of negotiations to be.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested that Britain and the EU could negotiate a “Canada plus plus” trade deal. This would involve replicating the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) but with the addition of an arrangement on services.

A future trade deal of that scope and comprehensiveness would likely over five years to negotiate and would require ratification from the national and regional parliaments of all EU member states. CETA took seven years to finalise.

The Cabinet is set to meet next Tuesday to discuss for the first time what they want from the Brexit “end state.”

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