European Council president Donald Tusk has set a deadline of the start of December for Britain to make further movement on its Brexit divorce bill and the future of the Irish border.
Speaking after talks with Theresa May in Sweden, Mr Tusk said the EU has completed the internal work necessary to give the green light for talks on trade and transition to begin at the next European Council summit in Brussels on December 14-15.
But he said that “much more progress” was needed from the UK on two of the three key issues in withdrawal talks in order to break the deadlock which has prevented the move to the second phase of negotiations which the UK is seeking.
“We will be ready to move on to the second phase already in December, but in order to do that we need to see more progress from the UK side,” said Mr Tusk.
“While good progress on citizens’ rights is being made, we need to see much more progress on Ireland and on the financial settlement.”
He said he had told Mrs May that “this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest”.
Speaking at the conclusion of an EU jobs summit in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Mr Tusk warned: “If there is not sufficient progress by then, I will not be in a position to propose new guidelines on transition and the future relationship at the December European Council”.
Mr Tusk said he and Mrs May agreed to meet again next Friday “to assess the situation in more detail”.
Mrs May told reporters as she left Gothenburg: “We are agreed that good progress has been made but there is more to be done, that we should move forwards together towards that point where sufficient progress can be declared and we can look ahead to what I have already said I want to see as a deep and comprehensive and special partnership between the UK and the remaining 27 members of the EU.”
Mrs May is anxious to secure the agreement of EU leaders to open discussions on Britain’s future relations with the bloc – including a free trade deal – when they meet next month in Brussels.
But Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar made clear that Dublin is ready to delay the start of trade talks beyond the start of next year unless the UK offers further concessions on the border.
After meeting Mrs May in the margins of the summit, he told reporters: “Before we move to phase two talks on trade, we want taken off the table any suggestion that there will be a physical border, a hard border, new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.
“If we have to wait until the New Year, if we have to wait for further concessions, so be it.”
In a scathing assessment of the UK’s preparedness for the complexity of Brexit negotiations, Mr Varadkar said: “It’s 18 months since the referendum, it’s 10 years since people who wanted a referendum started agitating for one.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like they have thought all this through.”
Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested that he wanted to see compromise from Brussels, warning EU leaders that they will get “nothing… for nothing”.
“In any negotiation you want the other side to compromise,” Mr Davis told the BBC. “I want them to compromise. Surprise, surprise, nothing comes for nothing in this world.”
“But so far in this negotiation, we’ve made quite a lot of compromises. On the citizens’ rights front, we’ve made all the running.”
Asked about the Brexit Secretary’s claim that the UK had made all the concessions so far in the negotiations, Mr Tusk said: “I can say only that I appreciate Mr Davis’s English sense of humour.”