Prime Minister Theresa May leaving Downing Street, London, for Brussels and a showdown with chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, just days after they said exit negotiations were deadlocked. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday October 16, 2017. Downing Street sources insisted the meeting had "been in the diary for weeks" but the announcement caused surprise in Westminster and comes after last week's negotiations ended with little movement. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Brexit talks should ‘accelerate’ in coming months, says May and Juncker

Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker have said efforts to find an agreement in the Brexit talks should "accelerate" in the coming months.

Following talks in Brussels, the Prime Minister and Mr Juncker issued a joint statement describing their meeting as "constructive".

"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."

The meeting came after the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week that the discussions remained "deadlocked" over Britain's "divorce bill".

He made clear he could not recommend to other EU leaders that they were ready to move on to the second phase - including a free trade deal - when they meet in the Belgian capital on Thursday.

But while there were few details of the discussion between Mrs May and Mr Juncker, the upbeat tone of the statement will encourage hopes among British officials that the talks can make progress before the end of the year.

There has been intense frustration on the British side that Mr Barnier - who was also present with Brexit Secretary David Davis - has been unwilling to move forward until there is greater clarity on the so-called withdrawal issues, including the Irish border and future citizens' rights.

EU negotiators in turn have complained that while Mrs May promised in her Florence speech the UK would honour its outstanding financial obligations, Mr Davis has so far refused to put a figure on the proposed financial settlement.

Ahead of her meeting with Mr Juncker, the Prime Minister spoke by telephone with two other key players – French president Emmanuel Macron and Irish premier Leo Varadkar.

Downing Street said Mrs May and Mr Macron had agreed to go over “next steps” in the margins of this week’s summit while she reiterated Britain’s commitment to maintaining a “soft” border with Ireland when she spoke to Mr Varadkar.

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.

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.

Ahead of the meeting, Downing Street reiterated that the Government believed the Prime Minister’s Florence speech had given a new momentum to the talks, and had received a “constructive response” in Europe.

Mrs May’s deputy Damian Green said the UK and EU were “moving closer” to agreement on citizens’ rights, although he acknowledged the divorce bill remained “one of the most difficult” withdrawal issues.

He said the Government would “keep making constructive suggestions” in an effort to achieve a breakthrough.

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire


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