- Hannah McKay/Reuters
LONDON – There has not been “sufficient progress” in Brexit negotiations so far, European Council President Donald Tusk has said, but he is “cautiously optimistic” about the UK’s stance.
Tusk emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street on Tuesday to say that he thinks Britain has dropped its “philosophy of having a cake and eating it.”
The president of the European Council said he was “cautiously optimistic about the constructive and more realistic tone of the prime minister’s speech in Florence and our discussion today.”
“This shows that the philosophy of having cake and eating it is finally coming to an end. At least I hope so.”
However, he made it clear that “there is no sufficient progress” in Brexit talks so far. Progress is required on three key issues – citizens’ rights, Ireland and the divorce bill – before discussions can advance onto the future relationship between the UK and EU.
The European Council, made up of the heads of the EU27 countries, will decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made at a meeting at the end of October. The fourth round of Brexit negotiations is currently occurring in Brussels.
Tusk said: “But of course, no-one will ever tell me that Brexit is a good thing because as I have always said, in fact, Brexit is only about damage control.
“And I didn’t change my opinion. I feel now we will discuss our future relations with the UK once there is so-called sufficient progress.”
May had hoped that her offer of a two-year transition period and a €20 billion divorce bill, made during her Brexit speech in Florence, would force through progress in talks.
She told Tusk that both the EU and UK needed to be “creative” in the way “we approach these issues” in order to find solutions that work for the two sides.
The EU has insisted that separation issues must be resolved first, with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying that his mandate only covers these.
“It remains more necessary than ever to create the trust that we need to set up and build upon our future relationship,” said at a press conference on Monday.
At the same conference, Brexit Secretary David Davis said there would be “no excuses” for the EU blocking progress during the fourth round of negotiations this week.
Labour MP Ian Murray, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign said: “We can only hope that Donald Tusk is right when he says that the Government’s failed strategy of trying to have its cake and eat it in the Brexit talks is over.
“It’s time for some realism and grown-up government, which means concrete proposals from Theresa May and David Davis in this week’s negotiations that will actually move them forward.”
Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said: “It’s disappointing that the Prime Minister’s present initiative has not made progress. I have no doubt that some will blame the Europeans for being inflexible but the truth is that the government triggered Article 50 far too prematurely.
“This government’s chronic mishandling of Brexit means they are running out of time to get any kind of deal and are risking crashing Britain out of the EU with no deal.”