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EU steps up pressure on UK before May’s Brexit speech

The European Union’s Chief Negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier has increased pressure on UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the eve of her major Brexit speech, warning that stalled exit talks would only move forward if she offered some “clear commitments.”

Barnier said Thursday a quick deal on the conditions of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU was still possible, but only if London offered new proposals when negotiations resume with Brussels next week.

“To make progress, we are waiting for clear commitments from the UK on these precise issues. We will listen attentively and constructively to Theresa May’s important speech tomorrow in Florence,” he said.

Reports suggest May’s speech on Friday will include an offer on the UK’s financial obligations and a proposal for a time-limited transition into a new deal with the EU.

A fourth round of talks with the European Commission is due to start on Monday, and London is keen to make progress so the negotiations can move onto the question of trade.

But the run-up to May’s speech has been overshadowed by cabinet divisions, after UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson laid out his own vision for life outside the EU in a newspaper article last weekend.

It was widely viewed as a challenge to the prime minister, whose hold on power remains fragile since losing her parliamentary majority in the June election.

May flew home with Johnson from New York on Wednesday where they had attended the UN General Assembly. She called a special cabinet meeting on Thursday at Downing Street to brief ministers on her plans, which lasted two and a half hours.

May triggered the two-year countdown to Brexit in March, and Barnier noted that time was running out.

“If we want a deal, time is of the essence,” he told an Italian parliamentary commission in Rome.

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