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Brussels eyes December Brexit deal

EU peers looking to launch a new phase of negotiations during the meet

Alastair Macdonald & Jan Strupczewski | Reuters  |  Brussels 

British PM Theresa May, Theresa May
British PM Theresa May.

When visits Brussels on Friday, negotiators will be listening intently for signs the British prime minister is preparing to risk a domestic backlash and raise her offer to secure a deal in December. officials and diplomats from the other 27 member states involved in the process hope that within a week to 10 days of meeting European Council President Donald Tusk, during a summit with ex-Soviet neighbours, May will deliver movement on three key conditions so that her peers can launch a new phase of negotiations when they meet on December 14-15. “I don’t know what room for manoeuvre May has, but what we can see is a willingness to act,” one senior official told Reuters. Another spoke of efforts to arrange the “choreography” of a deal over the next three weeks, including a possible EU-“joint report” on interim accords to unlock talks on trade. “I feel the tectonic plates moving now,” a diplomat handling for an government said. “Time is running out and a failure in the December Council would serve nobody’s purpose.” There has been only a day of top-level talks between the two lead negotiators since a mid-October summit that dismissed May’s call for immediate talks on a future trade agreement. But talks are continuing apace behind the scenes, participants say, ahead of a deadline of early December to strike a deal which can then be fully formalised by the 27 government leaders at the summit.

Hopes have been raised by reports in British media that May has secured backing from pro-hardliners in her cabinet to increase the amount of a financial settlement of what owes to the Union when it leaves in March 2019. “If there is a political willingness in Britain, we should be ready,” a senior official said, while warning that nothing was being taken for granted. May’s room for manoeuvre to cut a deal that would please business while irritating Britons who want a sharper break with Brussels is limited. And Germany and France, the Union’s lead powers have taken a tough line so far. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel distracted at home by a search for a new coalition, May can expect little focus from her to help smoothen a deal, several diplomats said, leaving it quite possible that December will not see an end to deadlock.

First Published: Fri, November 24 2017. 03:04 IST