Slow Pace of Brexit Talks Could Doom Deal, EU's Tusk Warns

  • Tusk says both sides must ‘think about where we are heading’
  • Britain says it agreed on speed of negotiations with the EU

European Union President Donald Tusk raised the possibility of Brexit talks collapsing because they are proceeding too slowly, a day after the U.K. government revealed it was drawing up contingency plans.

While Tusk said the EU wasn’t preparing for such an outcome, he said the sluggish speed of the negotiations meant failure to get a deal was a possibility. He hoped that EU leaders would be able to judge what would mark “sufficient progress” in the talks to allow trade discussions to begin by the end of the year. But he also stressed there were no guarantees.

“If it turns out that talks continue at a slow pace, and that sufficient progress hasn’t been reached, then, together with our U.K. friends, we will have to think about where we are heading,” Tusk said in a speech in Brussels on Tuesday. “We are negotiating in good faith.”

On Monday, as negotiations resumed in Brussels, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May won public backing from Brexit supporters in her cabinet after she outlined contingency plans for leaving the bloc without a deal, with a speech in the U.K. Parliament that showed the government was prepared to walk away from talks.

“While I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a government to prepare for every eventuality,” May told lawmakers.

Slow Pace

Earlier on Tuesday, the European Commission blamed the U.K. for the slow pace.

“The timing of talks depends on the availability of our U.K. partners and I think that explains where we stand, in terms of presence, who speaks to whom and how these negotiations advance,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels, when asked why there were no meetings planned for Wednesday, according to an official agenda published last week.

The current negotiations -- touching on the U.K.’s financial settlement, the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and the Irish border -- are the last before EU leaders assess progress at a summit next week.

“The program was agreed between the U.K. and EU, and we kept Wednesday free from the outset to give us flexibility during the round for any technical talks, which are taking place tomorrow,” a U.K. government spokesman said in a statement. “The U.K. has always been available for that and it’s simply incorrect to suggest otherwise.”

U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis met his EU counterpart Michel Barnier over lunch on Tuesday, dining on sea bass, Angus beef and French and English wines. A wrap-up session and a news conference are scheduled for Thursday.

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