European leaders back joint negotiating stance on Brexit

European leaders back joint negotiating stance on Brexit

European leaders back joint negotiating stance on Brexit

"Guidelines adopted unanimously. EU27 firm and fair political mandate for the #Brexit talks is ready", Donald Tusk tweeted as leaders met in Brussels.

The guidelines say that talks on future relations - particularly an EU-UK trade deal - should only start once there has been "sufficient progress" on the divorce questions.

Those will bind Michel Barnier, their chief negotiator, to seek a deal that secures the rights of three million EU expats living in Britain, ensure London pays tens of billions of euros Brussels thinks it will be owed and avoids destabilising peace by creating a hard EU-UK border across the island of Ireland.

Meeting for the first time since Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the two-year countdown to Brexit in late March, her counterparts took just minutes as they sat down to lunch in Brussels to approve eight pages of negotiating guidelines hammered out by their diplomats over the past month.

Central to that is the "phased" approach, with European Union leaders insisting the shape of a future trading relationship can only be considered when progress is made on the terms of the UK's departure.

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EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker already complained Saturday that "Britain now blocks the decision-making" on a review of the EU's long-term budget. "We will handle it with genuine care, but firmly", Tusk said before the meeting.

The call for a united front comes hot on the heels of a war of words between May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Britain should not have "illusions" about the talks.

"Both sides are clear - we want these negotiations to be conducted in the spirit of goodwill, honest cooperation and with the aim of establishing a close partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union going forward", Davis said in a statement in response to the EU's Brexit guidelines.

"Businesses are suffering a lack of certainty, great confusion, and complete lack of clarity about the timeframes for Brexit", he said.

"It is important to provide reassurance that it does not undermine any provision in the Good Friday Agreement, and if the provision on unity by peaceful means and by consent and democratic means is invoked at some time in future, EU membership is assured, and is now unanimously accepted by the European Council to endorse that legal base", he said.

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In the transitional deal, Britain would still remain under EU control and jurisdiction, with ultimate oversight by the European Court of Justice.

European Union leaders will vote on whether to accept the guidelines later today before a round of press conferences at around 3pm.

All sides "need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides". Some 3 million citizens from the 27 nations live in Britain while up to 2 million Britons live on the continent, all facing massive uncertainly on such issues as health benefits, pensions, taxes, employment and education.

"This must be the number one priority", Mr Tusk said.

Aside from dealing with the present day Irish border, the European Council is set to provisionally agree its approach if the day came when the people of Northern Ireland voted to end partition and join a united Ireland. They may also talk about how to manage a transition, after Britain leaves in 2019, to a new relationship likely to take many more years to finalise.

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