EU President Donald Tusk stressed on Saturday that Britain must first resolve the key divorce issues of “people, money and Ireland” before moving to talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
“Before discussing our future, we must first sort out our past,” Tusk said Saturday in a letter to leaders of the remaining 27 European Union countries ahead of a summit.
Former Polish premier Tusk stressed that the “only possible approach” was phased talks in which Britain must make “sufficient progress” on the divorce issues before talks on future relations.
Britain had wanted to discuss its divorce settlement with the bloc and a trade deal at the same time.
The EU says the key issues are the fate of three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million Britons resident in the EU; Britain’s exit bill estimated at around 60 billion euros; and the fate of the border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
“This is not only a matter of tactics, but — given the limited time frame we have to conclude the talks — it is the only possible approach,” Tusk wrote to the leaders.
“I would like us to unite around this key principle during the upcoming summit, so that it is clear that progress on people, money and Ireland must come first,” he wrote.
“And we have to be ready to defend this logic during the upcoming negotiations.”
His comments come a day after a row between British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the two years of negotiations ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019.
Merkel said Britain should not have “illusions” about getting favorable treatment, but May hit back by accusing the EU 27 of planning to “line up to oppose us.”
At Saturday’s summit the EU 27 leaders are set to adopt guidelines for the negotiations on Brexit, following May’s formal triggering of the two-year divorce process last month.
The EU leaders at a Brexit summit on Saturday will discuss whether to back automatic membership for the British province of Northern Ireland after Brexit if a referendum unites the island, EU diplomats said on Friday.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has previously asked fellow members of the bloc to acknowledge that Northern Ireland would, like East Germany in 1990, automatically enter the EU in the event of unification with the existing member state, the Irish Republic.
Kenny is expected to ask the other 26 leaders meeting in Brussels on Saturday (1 May) to endorse a negotiating plan for Britain’s withdrawal to give a political validation to what Irish and EU legal experts say is the position in international law of such territorial changes.
“We expect Ireland to ask on Saturday for a statement to be added to the minutes of the European Council, which states that in case of a unification of the island in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, the united Ireland would be a member of the EU,” an EU Council source told AFP.
The source added that should the question of a united Ireland arise, “it would be for the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland to decide in accordance with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”
According to the 1998 peace accord, which was backed by the British and Irish states, referendums should be held on both sides of the border to approve unification of the island. The current British government has acknowledged that Northern Ireland, if it united with the Republic, should be in a position to rejoin the EU.
The leaders, meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May, would enter their agreement with Kenny’s position in the formal minutes of the Council. These are normally published only after a subsequent meeting, though they are likely in this case to be made public immediately by those taking part in the summit.