BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The chairman of European Union leaders Donald Tusk said on Wednesday he did not expect any breakthrough in talks on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU at a summit on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is to address European leaders on her Brexit strategy at dinner on Thursday in Brussels. On Friday, after May leaves, the 27 remaining heads of state will discuss progress in the negotiations.
“I don’t expect any kind of breakthrough tomorrow,” Tusk told a news conference.
But he said that closing the first phase of talks — on a financial settlement, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland — was possible by December if Britain made some concrete proposals.
“We have to work really hard between October and December to finalise this so-called first phase and to start negotiating on our future relation with the UK,” Tusk said.
“But for this we need not only really promising visions and proposals, I mean the Florence speech of Theresa May, but very concrete proposals in negotiations,” he said.
“I am absolutely sure that it is still possible to achieve this first phase in December, but for this we need more concrete proposals from the British side, to be honest,” Tusk said.
Britain is keen to start discussions about a two-year transition period after it leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, and a trade relationship afterwards, to provide clarity for businesses which have to decide whether stay in Britain or relocate to the EU.
But EU leaders have adopted what they call a “phased approach”. First the EU and Britain must reach agreement on the terms of their divorce, with talks about the transition and their future relationship coming afterwards.
The start of the second phase on the transition and future will be triggered by a political decision of EU leaders that “sufficient progress” — a deliberately vague term — has been achieved in the divorce talks.
Tusk said the progress in talks had been “promising” rather than sufficient but that he would propose to the 27 EU leaders to start internal preparations for the second phase of negotiations.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Catherine Evans