EU leaders meet for the first time since British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered a two-year countdown to Brexit to finalise divorce guidelines. Pascale Davies reports.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (REUTERS AND EUROPEAN COUNCIL) – Meeting for the first time since Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the two year count down to Brexit last month,
The 27 EU leaders didn’t waste much time in agreeing the terms for the UK’s exit from the bloc.
In fact, it only took them one minute to approve the 8 pages of negotiating guidelines as they sat down to lunch.
The EU Council President says it’ll be a tough process.
EU COUNCIL PRESIDENT, DONALD TUSK,
“We all want a close and strong future relationship with the UK. There’s absolutely no question about it. But before discussing the future, we have to sort out our past. We will handle it with genuine care, but firmly.”
The guidelines will bind Michel Barnier, their chief negotiator, to seek a deal that secures the rights of 3 million EU expats living in Britain, ensure London pays tens of billions of euros Brussels thinks it will be owed, and avoid destabilising peace by creating a hard EU-UK border across the island of Ireland.
Threatening the unity of the UK- leaders will also offer Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny a pledge that if Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, ever unites with his country, it will automatically be in the EU.
But EU leaders are well aware relations with the UK may start to fray once negotiations begin.
Some diplomats fear the tone of EU demands sound too aggressive and may create a popular backlash in Britain that might make it hard for May to strike a deal.
They have also ruled out discussing the free trade deal May wants until they see progress on agreeing their key withdrawal terms.