The European Union could begin discussing Britain’s future relationship with the bloc without the UK in the room, a leaked document has revealed.
Despite refusing to begin trade talks with the UK, it has emerged the 27 other EU member states might start “internal preparatory discussions” on Britain’s post-Brexit arrangements from this month.
The detail is included in draft conclusions for next week’s European Council summit in Brussels, with the document circulated among European capitals.
On Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier declared he could not recommend Brexit talks move on from key divorce issues – the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland – when EU leaders gather in the Belgian capital on 19 October.
But the suggestion the EU 27 are ready to begin thinking about the second phase of talks – on transitional arrangements and a future trade agreement – is likely to offer some hope to the UK Government that trade talks could be authorised the next time EU leaders meet in December.
The draft conclusions, seen by Sky News, welcome “progress” on the withdrawal issues of citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland within Brexit negotiations, but notes the UK has yet to offer a “firm and concrete commitment” to settle financial obligations.
Moving to the second phase of talks should begin “as soon as possible”, the document states, adding the EU 27 and Mr Barnier will be invited to “start internal preparatory discussions” in order to be “fully ready” for the potential sanctioning of trade negotiations in December.
European Council President Donald Tusk travelled across Europe this week to meet EU leaders ahead of next week’s summit, where the EU 27 will decide whether to adopt the draft conclusions.
Following the end of the latest round of Brexit negotiations on Thursday, Mr Barnier revealed there remains a “very disturbing” deadlock on the UK’s exit bill.
But the European Commission official added he would explore “ways of getting out of this deadlock” in time for the European Council summit on 14 December, offering hope he could try and persuade EU leaders to loosen their strict guidelines on the sequencing of talks.
The EU 27 are currently demanding “sufficient progress” is made on the three key divorce issues before the second phase of talks on trade can begin.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has repeatedly pointed out some withdrawal discussions can only be concluded once the framework of Britain’s future relationship with the EU is known.
It is understood UK negotiators won’t budge on the financial settlement until there is some slackening of the EU’s sequencing of negotiations.
(c) Sky News 2017: EU may begin Brexit trade talks without the UK