As Talks Edge Closer, EU Throws Down Brexit Gauntlet To U.K.

Listing demands Prime Minister Theresa May must satisfy before they will discuss the trade deal she wants and urging her to be more realistic in her expectations, European Union governments threw down the gauntlet to the U.K. ahead of Brexit talks.

Laid to rest at a Brussels summit of the region’s leaders on Saturday were any doubts about the scale of the task facing Britain in withdrawing from the EU after four decades. Within minutes and to applause, a tough negotiating stance was endorsed unanimously. It’s bracing for a confrontation was the response from U.K.

A departure from the world’s biggest trading bloc has never been done and was never supposed to happen was responsible for the complexity of the job at hand. In order to avoid a precedent, the EU is striving to ensure the U.K. is worse off outside it than inside. It’s a matter of getting down to the business of what a future relationship might look like after agreeing to the terms of separation.

“Nobody has united here against the U.K.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters as she left the meeting. “The British people have made a decision, which we will have to respect. But we remaining 27 now get together in order to speak with one voice.”

After the U.K.’s June election, which May called in part to strengthen her mandate going into talks, is when the Brexit discussions will begin. Calculating a financial settlement which, one leader said, would be at least 40 billion euros ($44 billion) and guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain will be the first orders of business, according to the EU. The EU’s attention will turn to trade only after reinforcing the border between the two Irelands and once “sufficient progress’’ is made on those thorny topics. That looks unlikely to happen before December.

By arguing payments to the EU should be negotiated at the same time as future trade, May stuck to her guns on Sunday.

“I want to ensure that we agree on a trade deal and our withdrawal arrangements so that we know what both of those are when we leave the European Union,” she said on the BBC. “I’m confident we can get a deal.”

Merkel and her counterparts entered the European Council’s headquarters in Brussels declaring they stood as one, seeking to present a united stance in contrast to what they perceive to be muddled thinking and unrealistic ambitions on the British side.

The pending talks would be tough, complex and likely confrontational, acknowledged British Brexit Secretary David Davis while responding to the summit’s decisions.

Voters should back their Conservative Party when they go to the polls on June 8 rather than the opposition Labour Party, he argued using EU’s stance as May has repeatedly done.

“Both sides are clear — we want these negotiations to be conducted in the spirit of goodwill, sincere cooperation and with the aim of establishing a close partnership between the UK and the EU going forward,’’ Davis said. “There are already people in Europe who oppose these aims and people at home trying to undermine them.’’

Including contributions through the end of 2020 when the current budget period ends, the final version demands the U.K. pay a bill that reflects what its already committed to the bloc’s accounts. Both sides agreeing how to work out the bill and come up with a final sum later, might be enough, Juncker said.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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