Donald Tusk rules out Brexit trade talks before 'sufficient progress' on divorce

Britain must negotiate its divorce from the EU before talks can start on any future relationship, Donald Tusk said today in a major blow for Theresa May.

By Emilio Casalicchio

31 Mar 2017

Donald Tusk receives the letter triggering the UK's exit from the European Union from Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's permanent representative to the EU

Unveiling the EU’s draft negotiating position on Brexit this morning, the President of the European Council said there must be “sufficient progress” on withdrawal talks before any trade negotiations can begin.

In her letter triggering Article 50 on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said she wanted "to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU".

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But the position of the 27 member states suggests thorny issues such as Britain’s divorce bill will need to be hammered out before she can get what she wants.

Tusk said today that parallel talks about “all issues at the same time...will not happen”.

“Only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal, can we discuss framework for the future,” he added.

He said Brexit talks would be “difficult and confrontational” but he made clear that other 27 EU states would not “pursue a punitive approach,” adding: “Brexit in itself is already punitive enough.”

He warned May against trying to set up back channels between individual member states, saying talking to the bloc as a whole “is the only way to achieve anything during this process”.

And he said it would be up to the bloc of 27 remaining member states to decide when sufficient progress on Britain’s exit had been achieved and signalled Autumn as a possible time frame.

May had already been rebuffed on the offer of parallel talks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

Tusk set out the four primary negotiating objectives for the first stage of the talks. His first was agreeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and British people living on the continent.

He said legal certainties for business, the Brexit divorce bill and the status of Ireland would be the other key negotiating objectives.

And he concluded on Twitter: "After more than 40 years of being united, we owe it to each other to make this divorce as smooth as possible."

The draft negotiating paper has been sent to capitals around Europe ahead of a summit on 29 April which will cement the negotiating plans.


Tusk rejected the suggestion May had threatened to withdraw British cooperation on terror and security if she fails to get a free trade deal. 

In her Article 50 letter she said home affairs work between the UK and the EU could be "weakened" if there is no deal - leading to suggestions she was trying to blackmail the bloc.

But Tusk said: "It must be a misunderstanding - our partners are wise and decent partners and this is why I am absolutely sure that no one is interested in using security cooperation as a bargaining chip."

He said he had received assurances from the government that no threat had been intended. 

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