LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union negotiators displayed unity as they met on Thursday to discuss guidelines for divorce negotiations with Britain, seeking to forestall differences that could emerge at a later stage.
Talks with Britain, which formally triggered the two-year divorce procedure in March, are to start after the June 8 snap election called by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
"We are united, we have a clear line and we are ready," the EU chief negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, told reporters at the end of the meeting in Luxembourg where national ministers in charge of Brexit talks discussed draft negotiating guidelines before formal adoption by EU leaders at a summit on Saturday.
Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, the EU executive, said the British vote would have no impact on the EU position, whatever the outcome.
The draft guidelines reiterate the key objectives of the Brexit talks for EU states, which want progress on rights of EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living elsewhere in the bloc, on the bill for Brexit and on Irish-British border arrangements before talks can begin on a trade deal with Britain.
The ministers on Thursday made no changes to the draft, two diplomats who participated in the meeting said.
"There was a clear consensus around the table on the main principles that should guide us in the talks with the UK. Unity is one of them," the Maltese deputy prime minister, Louis Grech, who chaired the talks, said afterwards.
"We agree that we want the UK as a close partner, but in the context of a level playing field and a balance between rights and obligations."
In Berlin on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Britons to drop any illusions that they would continue to enjoy EU rights - an allusion to full access to the EU's lucrative single market - after they quit the bloc. She insisted the EU would only agree on future relations with London after they have nailed down the terms for departure.
At the Luxembourg meeting, Michael Roth, the German minister responsible for European affairs, said member countries should avoid any bilateral talks with London, underlining that "leaving the European Union comes at a price, and Britain must pay it".
European regulators have repeatedly warned supervisors in financial centres on the continent against undercutting each other to attract business from London after Brexit..
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Farah Salhi and Alastair Macdonald