EU President Donald Tusk on Saturday urged the bloc to keep a united front at a special Brexit summit in Brussels, stressing the welfare of citizens and families living in each other’s nations will be the priority once the talks start.
“We need to remain united as the EU 27. It is only then that we will be able to conclude the negotiations, which means that our unity is also in the UK’s interest,” Tusk told reporters.
“We also need solid guarantees for citizens and their families, who will be affected by Brexit on both sides. This must be number one priority for EU and the UK,” he said.
This referred to the fate of three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent, with officials hoping for a resolution on their status after the divorce by the end of the year.
The 27 EU leaders are meeting to finalize the cornerstones of their negotiating stance after British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the exit talks on March 29. The negotiations themselves are to start shortly after snap elections in Britain on June 8.
Tusk’s call for a united front comes hot on the heels of a war of words between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and May over the negotiations.
The EU 27 states have considerably toughened the guidelines since Tusk first unveiled them in March, shortly after May triggered the two-year Brexit process.
Tusk said Friday that Britain must first settle the divorce issues of “people, money and Ireland” before any talks on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Britain’s economy slowed in the first three months of the year as concerns about the UK’s exit from the EU spurred inflation and forced consumers to rein in spending.
The economy expanded 0.3 percent from the previous quarter, below the 0.4 percent that was expected and less half the 0.7 percent it grew at the end of 2016, the Office for National Statistics said Friday.
The pound has fallen about 20 percent against the dollar and euro since Britain voted to leave the EU, pushing up the cost of many imported goods. That seems to be hurting consumers — potentially bad news for the government only a few weeks before a general election.