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Donald Tusk, president of the EU council, has said the bloc will be firm in its negotiations with UK as he set out a tough set of guidelines as Europe’s opening gambit in the Brexit talks.

Speaking in Malta, the former Polish prime minister stressed “sufficient progress” must be made on Britain’s divorce from the EU before trade talks can begin. He said he will be meeting UK prime minister Theresa May in London before an EU-27 summit on April 29.

The first draft of a text out today and sent to all 27 leaders sets out a strict sequencing in talks, where the UK must first agree on its divorce terms – including a financial bill for exit – before moving on to trade talks.

Parallel talks “will not happen” said Mr Tusk at a press conference in Malta alongside the country’s prime minister Joseph Muscat.

“The UK is now on the other side of the negotiating table. We have worked very fast. The treaty only gives us two years to reach an agreement”, said Mr Tusk, who added the bloc will “firmly stand by” the guidelines.

He added the EU would not “not pursue a punitive approach” in the two-year talks which will centre on financial costs, citizen rights and a free trade agreement. “Brexit in itself is already punitive enough”.

EU’s leaders will be the ones to determine what amounts to sufficient progress, he said, adding he expected the state of the negotiations to be reviewed again in the autumn.

Mr Tusk stressed the UK would not be able to negotiate terms with any member state individually, carrying out talks exclusively with the bloc as a whole.

Asked if the UK government would link progress on a deal with future security cooperation, Mr Tusk said speculation about a “bargaining chip” was a “misunderstanding”.

“Our partners our wise and decent partners. This is why I am absolutely sure that no-one is interested in using security cooperation as a bargaining chip,” he said.

“This is my first divorce and hopefully the last one,” added the Council president.

Responding to Mr Tusk, a spokesman for the UK government said:

It is clear both sides wish to approach these talks constructively, and as the Prime Minister said this week, wish to ensure a deep and special partnership between the UK and the European Union.

Read the FT’s annotated version of the draft guidelines

(Image: EPA)

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