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EU Shows Support for Tough Brexit Stance as Work Continues

  • Leaders’ aides focus on citizens and bill in talks in Brussels
  • Reference to Gibraltar remains after EU meeting on guidelines

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Governments lent broad support to European Union President Donald Tusk’s tough Brexit negotiating stance when diplomats met on Tuesday for the first time since the U.K. formally triggered departure talks.

Aides to the EU’s 27 national leaders mainly backed the language contained in draft negotiating guidelines circulated to capitals on March 31, according to six diplomats with knowledge of the discussions in Brussels. Some countries want wording in that draft, which rejected U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s ambition of discussing a trade deal before an agreement on how much the U.K. should pay, to be strengthened further.

With the EU now controlling the timetable of the two-year negotiations and talks unlikely to start between the two sides until late May at the earliest, the U.K. can do little while the bloc goes through the process of approving its negotiation framework. The bloc’s determination to present a united front has so far shown little sign of falling away.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on the rights of EU citizens already in the U.K. and Britain’s 60 billion-euro ($64 billion) exit bill with some countries calling for language on both to be made more explicit, diplomats said.

Trade Discussions

Some countries are also pushing for the negotiating guidelines to set out a clearer separation between completion of the “divorce” settlement and the start of the talks on a future trade deal, one diplomat said. Tusk said last month that preliminary trade discussions can start when there is “sufficient progress” on the divorce, possibly as early as this fall.

There was no attempt to remove the wording that no deal between the U.K. and the EU will apply to Gibraltar, a British territory off the Spanish coast, without an agreement between Spain and Britain, diplomats said.

The negotiating guidelines are due to be approved by the 27 leaders of the EU without the U.K. when they meet for a summit in Brussels on April 29. The preparations will continue in the week before that: Aides are scheduled to meet again April 24 and Brussels-based diplomats will hold technical talks April 26, before European affairs ministers finalize the draft on April 27.

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