EU vows to ‘act as one’ and proritise divorce first in Brexit talks – draft statement

The 27 remaining EU member states will pledge to act “as one” in the Brexit negotiation with the UK after Theresa May activates formal talks on Wednesday to withdraw from the bloc.

In a draft statement to be issued after Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, receives the Article 50 notification, the EU27 will say that their first priority is to “minimise the uncertainty” caused by the UK move for citizens, business and member states.

“Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal,” said the draft.

A diplomat said some elements of the draft remain to be finalised in light of the actual text of Mrs May’s letter, which will be delivered to Mr Tusk at about 1.20pm (CET) in Brussels by Tim Barrow, the UK ambassador to the EU.

A reference to the possible collapse of the talks remains to be settled definitively, said the diplomat. The draft said the EU would be ready to deal with failure in the talks “even though we do not desire it.”

“We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement. In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner,” the draft said.

Mr Tusk will make a public statement shortly after his meeting with Sir Tim. Within 48 hours of the notification, Mr Tusk will issue draft guidelines for Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, which are to be settled by the remaining member states at a summit on April 29th.

The guidelines are likely to curtail the scope of the initial talks to the terms of the divorce and not include the EU’s future trading relationship with the UK.

The draft statement from the EU27 said “these guidelines will set out the overall positions and principles in light of which the union, represented by the European Commission, will negotiate with the UK.” They will say they regret the UK’s decision but “are ready for the process that now will have to follow.”

Separately, the European Parliament has said any transition deal between Britain and the EU should be “strictly” limited to only three years, according to a draft resolution put forward by MEPs.

The demand came as part of a non-binding resolution to be tabled in the European Parliament, which can veto any Brexit deal. The 11-page document, which was first reported by the Guardian, lays out the chamber’s potential red lines.

These range from ensuring that Britain does not try and line up free trade deals with non-EU members during Brexit negotiations to a demand that negotiators “avoid the reestablishment of a hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

It also bluntly opposes any “piecemeal or sectoral provisions, including with respect to financial services” – an idea that had been floated repeatedly in London for both finance and other sectors, such as car manufacturing.

Any future deal must be based on the UK adhering to EU standards on areas such as “environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy”, according to the resolution.

Although the resolution is non-binding, it lays out the chamber’s basic thinking on Brexit, with MEPs expected to play an indirect but still very vocal role in negotiations.

The proposal also suggests that Britain should not be able to “trade-off” cooperation on security on defence for better terms in other parts of the Brexit deal.

The proposal insists that any transitional deal must be “limited in scope” so it can “never be a substitute for union membership”.

Any exit agreement with the EU would need the approval of 72 per cent of member states, representing 65 per cent of the EU population. But the European Parliament can block the Article 50 agreement with a simple majority.

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