Intense week of talks ahead of Brexit showdown summit
| November 19th 2018
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 EU 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 EU 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 road-map 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."
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.
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 over six pages to around 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.
More closed-door talks were to follow on Monday, when the EU 27 ministers of European affairs meet to prepare Sunday's signing summit.
In the meantime, EU Council president Donald Tusk is going ahead with plans to bring May and her fellow leaders together on November 25 to sign the deal.
"We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us," May will tell British business leaders on Monday, according to Downing Street.
“During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship," she was to say.
"And I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons."
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