Intense week of talks ahead of Brexit showdown summit

Both sides scramble to finalise a parallel political declaration to set out a plan for post-Brexit negotiations.

    UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons last week [Parbul TV via Reuters]
    UK Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons last week [Parbul TV via Reuters]

    European governments get their own say on Brexit this week as they debate future ties with London in the run-up to Sunday's summit to sign Britain's divorce papers.

    Ministers from the other 27 European Union member states are in Brussels on Monday at the start of what Prime Minister Theresa May calls "an intense week of negotiations".

    The British leader has said she will be in the city herself later in the week to meet the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for last-minute talks.

    Neither May nor European leaders are keen to reopen the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement that was grudgingly approved by the British cabinet last week.

    But both sides are scrambling to finalise a parallel political declaration that will set out a plan for post-Brexit negotiations on future EU-UK ties.

    "The focus this week will be on the future relationship," May told Sky News.

    "We won't agree the leaving part ... until we've got what we want in the future relationship because these two go together."

    Fleshed out

    Specifically, London wants to lay out in as much detail as possible how to get to a free trade agreement before the end of a 21-month post-Brexit transition.

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    Brussels, meanwhile, insists Britain cannot have the same privileged access to the single market as it did as a member state after Brexit on March 29 next year.

    European negotiators plan to publish their version of the statement on future relations on Tuesday after their ambassadors met over the weekend.

    On Sunday, according to diplomatic sources, the document was fleshed out from just six pages to about 20 as more details were agreed.

    They also discussed an EU proposal that the draft withdrawal agreement be amended to extend the post-Brexit transition to the end of 2022.

    No decision was taken on this, however, and members are wary of re-opening the document and allowing British hardliners to restart a debate on its terms.

    European Council President Donald Tusk is going ahead with plans to bring May and her fellow leaders together on November 25 to sign the deal.

    Vote down?

    While the EU 27 and their negotiator, Michel Barnier, have remained publicly united through the 17-month negotiation, Britain's political camps are at war.

    Whether or not May wins an improved future partnership offer this week, she still has to get the withdrawal deal itself past the Westminster parliament.

    Hardline Conservative Brexiteers and May's Northern Irish unionist allies have pledged to vote down the treaty despite the threat of a calamitous no-deal Brexit.

    And the opposition Labour Party, scenting a chance to topple May's government, has also warned that its members will not support her deal.

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    SOURCE: AFP news agency