Blow for May after EU rebuffs call for start of Brexit trade talks

Prime Minister Theresa May greets President of the European Council Donald Tusk at 10 Downing Street.
Prime Minister Theresa May greets President of the European Council Donald Tusk at 10 Downing Street.
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THERESA MAY suffered a blow in her efforts to kickstart the Brexit talks after she was told Brussels will continue to resist moves to discuss the future of trade between the UK and Europe.

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European Council president Donald Tusk delivered the rebuff during Downing Street talks where the Prime Minister called on Brussels to be “imaginative and creative”.

European leaders have made clear the future trading relationship will not be discussed until progress has been made in areas including the future rights of EU citizens in the UK, the Irish border and the so-called ‘divorce bill’.

Mrs May’s speech in Florence last week was designed to add new impetus to the Brexit talks by clarifying the UK’s position and setting out proposals for a two-year transition period as Britain leaves the EU.

But speaking in Downing Street after their meeting, Mr Tusk made clear the EU was standing firm.

He said: “The two sides are working hard at it.

“But if you asked me and if today member states asked me, I would say there is no ‘sufficient progress’ yet.

“But we will work on it.”

Mr Tusk welcomed the “constructive and more realistic tone” of Mrs May’s Florence speech.

And in a reference to previous remarks by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the European Council president said the UK had now abandoned “the philosophy of having a cake and eating it.”

The meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Tusk coincided with the fourth round of Brexit talks in Brussels this week.

A Downing Street spokesman said the pair had “welcomed the good progress that had been made on citizens’ rights in the talks so far, and restated their commitment to finding a positive solution to the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

Mrs May told Mr Tusk her proposal of a transition period would “build a bridge to that new relationship that ensures the process is smooth and orderly and creates as much certainty as possible for everyone”.

The spokesman added: “At the end of the meeting, the Prime Minister said her Florence speech had been intended to create momentum in the ongoing talks.

“She said it was important for EU negotiators to now respond in the same spirit.”

French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday set out his vision for wholesale reform of the European Union.

Mr Macron suggested wide-ranging changes including a common budget for eurozone countries, alterations to the Common Agricultural Policy and new measures to combat terrorism.

And he suggested that major changes to the way the EU operates could pave the way for Britain deciding to abandon its plan to leave.

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