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British PM meets German, Dutch leaders in crucial Brexit week

AFP , Monday 2 Jul 2018
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Britain's Permanent Representative to the EU Tim Barrow arrive at an European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 28, 2018. (Photo:Reuters)
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Prime Minister Theresa May will visit the German and Dutch leaders this week before a crucial ministerial meeting intended to finally agree what Britain wants from post-Brexit trade ties with the EU, her spokesman said Monday.

May will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before she takes her divided cabinet away for the day on Friday to thrash out their differences on how close economically Britain should stay to the EU.

Less than nine months before Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, the government has yet to set out in detail what it wants from the future relationship.

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last week warned May she was running out of time to get a deal, and stepped up their preparations for the possibility the talks collapse.

She is also under intense pressure at home, with a leading eurosceptic in her Conservative party warning Monday she must stick to her promises or risk the government collapsing.

The intervention of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who represents Tories who want a clean break with the EU, sparked a backlash from members of the party who back closer ties.

Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan accused him of "threatening" May, saying: "The ideological right are a minority despite their noise and should pipe down."

May's spokesman said the government was focused on delivering the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

"The prime minister has set out what she wants to achieve, that is to leave the single market, leave the customs union, leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and be free to sign and implement trade deals around the world," he said.

May's talks with Merkel and Rutte following meetings with the Irish and Spanish leaders in Brussels on Thursday, and earlier in the week with EU president Donald Tusk and the Greek premier in London.

Her spokesman said this was part of the "regular process of engagement".

One of the crucial issues to be discussed at Friday's meeting at May's country residence of Chequers is how to create a new customs relationship with the EU that avoids border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Ministers have been mulling two possible options for months, both of which have faced opposition in Brussels and within the cabinet, and media reports suggested Monday that a third option was now being considered.

Once ministers agree a way forward on Friday, the government will next week publish a policy document setting out in detail what it wants from the future trading relationship.

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