European Union President Donald Tusk has warned Britain that it has two weeks to make “much more progress” on Brexit negotiations in order to begin talks by the end of the year about a future trade deal after the UK’s planned withdraw from the bloc.
Tusk announced the deadline on Friday after talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of an EU summit in Sweden that was meant to focus on reforms for the bloc’s post-Brexit survival.
The EU chief’s warning reflects Brussels’ growing impatience with London over its exit bill, EU citizens’ rights and the Irish border. The EU has for months demanded that Britain make “sufficient progress” on these issues.
“We need to see much more progress on Ireland and on the financial settlement,” Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, said at a press conference after the EU summit in the Swedish port city of Gothenburg.
“I made it very clear to Prime Minister May that this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest” to allow time to prepare official guidelines for a summit in Brussels on December 14 when leaders will discuss Brexit.
The next EU summits are in February, March and June, which would leave little time for trade talks before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019, though in theory Tusk can summon leaders for a special Brexit meeting at any time.
The EU chief was sarcastic when asked about comments by Britain’s Brexit Minister David Davis that London had already made compromises, saying, “I really appreciate Mr. Davis’s English sense of humor.”
May, whose government has been pressing the EU to move on to post-Brexit trade talks while resisting EU pressure on the divorce terms, was more upbeat as she left the summit.
“We’ve agreed that good progress has been made, more does need to be done, but we’re clear and I’m clear that what we need to do is move forward together,” seeking the best deal for both, May said.
May is reportedly ready to double Britain’s 20 billion euro ($24 billion) offer on the divorce bill in a bid to clear what has been the most difficult obstacle in talks so far. The EU says the exit bill is around 60 billion euros (S$96 billion).
The Irish border issue has also become particularly sensitive. On Friday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar threatened to block progress on Brexit without a “written” guarantee from the UK that there will be no “hard border” with British-ruled Northern Ireland.