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Tusk Predicts ‘Tough’ Brexit Talks as he Delivers Draft Negotiating Guidelines | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A demonstrator holds a placard reading I want to keep my EU citizenship as they pass the Houses of Parliament during an anti-Brexit, pro-European Union (EU) march in London. (AFP)

European Union council President Donald Trump handed out on Friday draft negotiating guidelines that will tackle Britain’s departure from the European bloc, as large numbers of British expatriates in Belgium submitted nationality requests.

The EU is ready to talk to Britain on a future free trade deal before the two sides agree final terms on Brexit, the draft negotiating guidelines issued on Friday show.

As part of a “phased approach”, Britain would just have to show “sufficient progress” on its divorce settlement in a first phase of negotiations and EU states could release a lock and agree to launch trade talks in a second phase.

But that concession to Theresa May two days after she triggered a two-year countdown to withdrawal was accompanied by elements in the draft that the British prime minister may find less palatable.

They include an insistence that during a transition period likely to follow Britain’s departure in 2019 and before a free trade pact can be finalized, the British must accept EU rules, including budget contributions and judicial oversight, that are some of the main reasons a majority voted for Brexit last June.

If Britain remains a part of the EU single market for a time after Brexit, it would also have to respect all “four freedoms”, which would mean accepting free immigration from the continent.

A British government spokesman said on Friday that the draft guidelines show a constructive approach ahead of negotiations on Britain’s exit.

“It is clear both sides wish to approach these talks constructively, and as the prime minister said this week, wish to ensure a deep and special partnership between the UK and the European Union,” the spokesman said, in an email distributed from May’s office.

Tusk said the talks would be difficult and sometimes confrontational, saying it was his “first divorce and I hope the last one.”

“The EU 27 does not and will not pursue a punitive approach. Brexit itself is already punitive enough,” he told a news conference in the Maltese capital Valletta as he revealed his plans.

Germany and France had already set out a united and uncompromising stance against May’s demands.

The draft guidelines, seen by Reuters after he distributed them to the 27 other governments in the bloc on Friday, may be somewhat revised over the next month before being endorsed by the 27 leaders at a summit on April 29.

Among other elements in the eight-page document is a priority to settle legal uncertainty for EU expatriates living on either side of the new EU-UK frontier. It says rights acquired before a cutoff on the day Brexit takes effect should be retained.

Official Belgian sources revealed that a large number of Britons living in Belgium had applied for the nationality immediately after the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote results. The majority of these applicants work in European institutions.

“Over the past few days, we witnessed a surprise increase in nationality applications submitted by Britons. This can be attributed to the contradictory statements issued from London,” they went on to say.

A Belgian municipality official said: “We understand the concern they feel over losing their jobs after their country voted to leave the EU.”

Some 300 British expatriates had applied to obtain the Belgian nationality since the Brexit vote.

Many observers believe that the fate of 3 million Europeans living in Britain and 1.5 million Britons living in Europe hinges on the results of London’s negotiations with the EU.

The negotiating guidelines will form the basis of a mandate for chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier. He expects to launch negotiations in early June, giving him about 16 months to conclude the basics of a withdrawal treaty that can then be ratified by lawmakers on both sides in time for Brexit on March 29, 2019.