Donald Tusk: Preparations for 'second phase' of Brexit talks can start
Donald Tusk has said the EU27 have agreed that preparations to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks can get underway.
The announcement by the European Council president means the UK and EU could start formal talks on a future trade relationship by December.
In a boost for Theresa May, Mr Tusk said her speech in Florence last month had given "new momentum" to talks and that reports of a deadlock had been "exaggerated.
Member states remain of the view that “insufficient progress” has been made to move on, with outstanding issues remaining on matters of citizens’ rights, the Northern Ireland border and the size of the UK's 'divorce bill'.
But Mr Tusk said this did not mean there had been "no progress at all".
Mr Tusk tweeted earlier that the remaining 27 EU countries had given the "green light" to laying the groundwork for the second phase of talks.
At a press conference in Brussels this morning, the former Polish prime minister sounded a positive note and said he wanted to reassure the UK about the prospects of a deal being agreed.
"After Prime May’s intervention last night and our discussion about Brexit this morning, my impression is that report of the deadlock between the EU and the UK have been exaggerated and while progress is not sufficient it doesn’t mean there is no progress at all," Mr Tusk said.
"Today the council has agreed to start internal preparatory discussion in relation to the framework for the future relationship and on transitional arrangements.
"It is clear that this would not be possible without the new momentum given by the Florence speech of Prime Minister May.
"I would like to reassure our British friends that in our internal work we will take account of proposals presented there. So the negotiations go on and we will continue to approach them positively and constructively, and as we are all working actively on a deal, I hope we will be able to move to the second phase of our talks in December."
'AMBITIOUS AND POSITIVE'
His comments came after Mrs May said she was "ambitious and positive" for Britain's negotiations with the EU but there is still "some way to go" in the talks.
She told an earlier press conference: "Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and a constructive spirit and we should recognise what has been achieved to date.”
She said the parties remained in “touching distance” of agreement on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU and that “imaginative” solutions continue to be required on the Irish border.
She echoed comments by Brexit Secretary David Davis that ministers would continue to look over the proposed budget contributions and divorce settlement demanded by the EU “line by line”, as the "British taxpayer would expect."
'LIKE A TEENAGER'
Labour MP and Open Britain campaigner Heidi Alexander criticised the government for leaving the summit without having resolved the key initial issues.
“Like a teenager trying to get away with handing in their homework late, Theresa May is running out of excuses for her lack of progress," she said.
This European Council was meant to wrap up issues like Northern Ireland and citizens’ rights and begin serious negotiations on trade – but now it turns out those talks will not begin before December at the earliest.
“It is nauseating to see Ministers who told us that Brexit would be easy now trying to spin this failed summit as a success. To have not made sufficient progress in negotiations 16 months after the referendum is an unambiguous failure.