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Brexit’s Critical Five Weeks: The Key Dates as the Clock Ticks

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The U.K. wants the European Union to allow negotiations to start on their post-Brexit relationship by the end of the year. After a summit in October ended in failure, hopes are now pinned on a gathering in mid-December. If the stalemate continues, the prospect of the talks collapsing without a deal rises significantly.

EU leaders need to judge there’s been “sufficient progress” on the most pressing issues of separation before attention can turn to trade. There’s a long way still to go, particularly on the issue of the financial settlement. Here’s a guide to the most crucial five weeks yet in the Brexit negotiations.

Nov. 14, 16 and 17: Life After Brexit

The EU has refused to start discussing with the U.K. what it wants out of their future relationship but has begun its own internal preparations. They step up a gear this week as Brexit diplomats hash out a common stance over the course of three days. Their aim is to be ready to talk about trade and transition as soon as leaders fire the starting gun on the next phase of negotiations.

Nov. 17: A Swedish Break

The EU’s leaders hold a summit in Gothenburg. Brexit isn’t on the official agenda, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Prime Minister Theresa May to try to talk to counterparts in the corridors about the U.K.’s most pressing problem.

Nov. 20: Ministers Meet

For the first time since the October summit failed to reach a breakthrough, representatives from all 27 governments convene in Brussels. They will gauge the state of the negotiations and start discussing the chances of success at the December leaders meeting. They’ll also vote on where the two EU agencies currently based in the U.K. should move to.

Nov. 22: Contemplating Transition

With just three weeks to the summit, the EU’s Brussels-based ambassadors gather to talk about the likelihood of a breakthrough, as well as assessing the internal preparations for the transition arrangement and future relationship.

Nov. 27: More Negotiations?

No further talks between the U.K. and the EU have been confirmed, but officials say the last week of November is their best bet for another round. It’s pretty much now or never. After this week just 10 days remain before the summit. EU diplomats will want to use that time to draft their response to present to leaders. This isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline, and the U.K. will have some wiggle room right up until the meeting, but the EU will probably consider it too late if May waits until then to present an offer.

Nov. 29: Prep Starts

Ambassadors have penciled in a possible meeting in Brussels to start drafting the summit conclusions. These words will hold the key to whether the second phase of negotiations -- the trade talks -- can start.

Dec. 6: Heads Down

With a week to go, the ambassadors get serious. Whatever the state of the negotiations and the EU’s view of any British concessions, they get to work drafting the conclusions.

Dec. 11: Sherpa Session

Summit week. From the 27 national capitals, the presidents’ and prime ministers’ right-hand men and women travel to Brussels to cast their eye over and revise the draft conclusions. They’ll come with important messages from their leaders about whether to give Britain what it wants.

Dec. 12: Dotting the ‘i’s

European ministers come from the capitals to put the finishing touches to the summit conclusions. By now we should have a firm idea of whether the U.K. will get sufficient progress at the summit.

December 14-15: D-Day

It all comes down to this. 28 leaders locked in a room. While the discussion can go in any direction when they all meet face to face, leaders rarely rip up the preparatory work done in Brussels in the weeks before. The EU doesn’t want May to go to the summit to negotiate. Instead, they just want to deliver a verdict.

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