Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker have agreed to “accelerate” efforts to find a Brexit deal but offered little sign of tangible progress.
Following a working dinner in Brussels on Monday, the Prime Minister and Mr Juncker said in a joint statement that their meeting had been “constructive and friendly”.
However there was no indication the Commissioner’s side was ready to revise its view that the talks still had not made sufficient progress for them to move forward to the second phase – including a free trade deal.
The meeting came after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned last week that the discussions remained “deadlocked” – with Britain’s “divorce bill” a key stumbling block.
He made clear he could not recommend to other EU leaders that they were ready to move on to phase two when they meet in the Belgian capital on Thursday.
Amid continued frustration at the lack of progress, British officials will now be looking to the EU’s December summit as the next opportunity to move forward.
Senior EU figures however warned that the UK would have to be clearer about how much it is willing to pay to settle its financial commitments.
Elmar Brok, a senior German MEP in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, said while Mrs May’s assurance in her Florence speech that the UK would honour its obligations was welcome, it did not go far enough.
“It must be clear what it means in practical terms. That is a nice speech but not a proposal for negotiations,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
He said that while it should be possible to make progress in December, negotiations were being hampered by the continued infighting among senior British ministers.
“I have more the feeling that the fight in the Tory Party about the leadership is stopping us coming to such a result more than anything else,” he said.
In their statement, Mrs May and Mr Juncker said they had had a “broad, constructive exchange” on a range of issues – including the need to preserve the Iran nuclear deal following US President Donald Trump’s latest threat to withdraw.
“The Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come,” they said.
“The working dinner took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere.”
It was in marked contrast to a previous private dinner at Number 10 in April when Mr Juncker’s chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, was blamed for leaking details, including a warning by the Commission President that he left “10 times more sceptical” than when he arrived.
Among MPs at Westminster campaigning for a “soft” Brexit, however, there was frustration at the lack of apparent progress despite the warm words.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “With just 18 months of Brexit talks left, this statement barely even registers on the Richter scale.”
Labour former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, member of the Open Britain group, said: “The blandness of their joint statement begs the question of what Theresa May actually did talk about in her meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker.”