Britain's May to address EU leaders on Brexit on Thursday

Reuters , Tuesday 17 Oct 2017

Theresa May
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks outside 10 Downing Street in London, May 23, 2017 (Reuters)

British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to pitch her Brexit strategy to European Union peers on Thursday in another bid to unblock negotiations on the terms of Britain's exit from the EU.

The bloc's 28 leaders are to meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. They will discuss progress in negotiations on the terms of Britain's exit on Friday, but without May.

"(Colleagues) of Theresa May have expressed a wish for her to take the floor, including on the Brexit strategy, during the dinner on Thursday so I am pretty sure it will take place," an EU official involved in preparations for the meeting said.

"We do not expect at this stage any new initiatives between now and the European Council," he said.

The official also said that May's Brexit speech in Florence last month helped unblock stalled divorce negotiations and allowed for "good" progress.

Britain is keen to start discussions about a 2-year transition period after it leaves the EU at the end of March 2019 and a trade relationship afterwards.

But EU leaders have adopted what they call a "phased approach". First the EU and Britain must reach agreement on the terms of their divorce -- a financial settlement, the rights of citizens and on Northern Ireland -- and talk about the transition and the future relationship only afterwards.

The start of the second phase on the transition and future will be triggered by a political decision of EU leaders that "sufficient progress" -- a deliberately vague term -- has been achieved in the divorce talks.

The official noted that a speech made by May in Florence in September, had broken a stalemate in the talks.

"It is a fact that there is no 'sufficient progress', but there is good progress after the speech of Theresa May in Florence, it unlocked negotiations," the official said.

"After the Florence speech the reading of the situation is that we are negotiating in good faith. We still hope it will be possible to achieve sufficient progress in December, but much depends on the UK side," the official said.

"If indeed sufficient progress takes place by December, the EU council can give ... the green light for the second phase: the transition and future relations," the official said.

According to draft conclusions of EU leaders on the Brexit negotiations, the EU will declare that it would start internal preparations for the second phase of the talks already now, so as not to waste time when "sufficient progress" is declared.

"We would not have arrived at that line if it were not for the Florence speech. That's the gesture on the EU side," the official said. 

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