Brexit Bulletin: May Sticks to Her Guns

Theresa May braces for the EU's tough stance on Brexit.
  • Leaders of 27 EU nations sign off on Brexit negotiation guidelines
  • May wants Brexit talks and trade deal talks to run in tandem

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Theresa May is sticking to her guns.

A day after European Union leaders said she must settle the Brexit divorce before getting a chance to discuss a future trade relationship, the British prime minister responded that the talks should run in parallel. She added that a "comprehensive" trade deal could even be arranged by the time the U.K. leaves in March 2019.

Forced to deny accusations from the EU that such ambitions suggest she's in a "different galaxy," May told the BBC on Sunday she was bracing for tough negotiations. 

"The EU has also said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,'' she said. "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."

May spoke after EU leaders met in Brussels to sign off on their guidelines for the talks. They did so unanimously, in minutes and to applause.

The result is a hard line stance. Britain was told to first address the thorny topics of the check-out bill, border arrangement between the two Irelands and the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the U.K.

Only when all 27 other members of the EU member agree "sufficient progress" has been made on these issues will attention turn to building the framework for a trade pact. EU officials say they don't see that happening until the end of the year, and don't expect any deal to be ready until after Brexit with only a "framework" likely beforehand.

"The U.K. is being confronted with reality now,'' Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said in an interview. 

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper reports European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is 10 times more skeptical on Brexit talks after meeting with May on Wednesday, and says the U.K. prime minister showed no willingness to compromise.  

Ultimately, the EU wants to prove leaving the bloc is hard, and ensure Britain settles its commitments. It also knows trade provides it with leverage.

By contrast, May wants to work in tandem to allow her to win trade-offs and help her domestically by showing she's getting something out of Brexit. She also knows that trade accords take time, of which she has little.   

If there was any clarity from this weekend, it may just be that the start of the Brexit talks is likely to be spent debating just what to talk about first.

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A holiday in much of Europe on Monday means the Brexit Bulletin is shorter than usual. Normal service will resume on Tuesday.

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