Ex-EU chief: Chance of Brexit trade talks by October almost zero

Posted On: 
7th September 2017

The chance of Britain and the EU moving to the next stage of Brexit talks in October is “in the neighbourhood of zero”, a former European Council chief has said.

Herman van Rompuy (right) and his successor as European Council president Donald Tusk
PA Images

Herman van Rompuy said without a “breakthrough” on the current deadlock over the UK’s so-called ‘divorce bill’ from the bloc the original timetable would be blown apart.

The EU has refused to discuss its future trade relationship with Britain until priorities such as the bill and the future status of Northern Ireland are hammered out.

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It said the talks could move onto trade in October if the Council judges that “sufficient progress” has been made on the first stages by then.

Brexit Secretary David Davis revealed this week that talks on the divorce settlement would likely stretch on for at least another year since there were still major splits with the bloc.

Former Belgian Prime Minister Mr Rompuy said the admission sent “a bad signal” if the UK wanted to move onto its future trade deal in good time.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “I'm not a negotiator, [but from] what I hear and what I read in the press, the chances that we are ready in October are in the neighbourhood of zero."

He said the parties should “hope that we have a breakthrough” rather than allow the next stage of talks to be delayed beyond December.

But First Secretary of State Damian Green told the same show: “I think that’s too pessimistic.”

He added: “We have made some significant agreements already. As I say, the negotiations will be tough but let’s see what happens between now and October.”

Elsewhere, European Parliament president Antonio Tajani told Politico he would push for the ‘sufficient progress’ assessment to be pushed back to December.

He said Britain had offered only “very foggy proposals” on the issues in stage one, and that it would not be “a tragedy” to slow the process.

Mr Green refused to engage with the possibility of a formal delay, but insisted the UK wanted to “increase the pace” of talks.