EU leaders unite on Brexit demands, for now

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By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders will endorse a stiff set of divorce phrases for Britain at a summit on Saturday, rejoicing in a uncommon present of unity in adversity, however properly conscious which will begin to fray as soon as negotiations start.

Assembly for the primary time since British Prime Minister Theresa Might formally triggered a two-year countdown to Brexit in late March, the 27 different EU leaders will lose little time over a lunch in Brussels in approving an Eight-page set of negotiating tips hammered out by their diplomats over the previous month.

These will bind Michel Barnier, their chief negotiator, to hunt a deal that secures the rights of three million EU expats dwelling in Britain, guarantee London pays tens of billions of euros Brussels thinks will probably be owed and avoids destabilising peace by creating a tough EU-UK border throughout the island of Eire.

Additionally they rule out discussing the free commerce deal Might needs till they see progress on agreeing these key withdrawal phrases.

In a mark of how final yr's Brexit vote has referred to as into query the unity of the UK itself, leaders may even supply Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny a pledge that if Northern Eire, which voted towards Brexit, ever unites together with his nation, it can mechanically be within the EU.

The leaders might spend extra time in discussions, together with with Barnier, on what standards they could use to guage, come the autumn, whether or not he has made enough progress to warrant a begin on commerce talks. They could additionally speak about tips on how to handle a transition, after Britain leaves in 2019, to a brand new relationship more likely to take many extra years to finalise.

That call on what's "enough" is the sort of debate that may poison relations because the 27 search to guard nationwide pursuits. Additionally contentious might be which nations scoop the prizes of internet hosting two EU businesses set to be moved from London.

With a lot of the 27 providing to deal with the European Medicines Company (EMA) and a number of other wanting the European Banking Authority (EBA), summit chair Donald Tusk and EU chief government Jean-Claude Juncker will suggest they agree in June on standards for making the alternatives to keep away from a repeat of earlier bunfights.

"We're remarkably united," one nationwide chief who shall be on the desk informed Reuters this week. "However then it is all the time straightforward to be united on what you need earlier than you begin negotiating."


Amongst potential variations, the priorities of poor, japanese states are to safe residency rights for his or her many staff in Britain and British cash for the EU finances; Germany and others set retailer by a clean transition to a brand new free commerce settlement.

Unwonted unity has been cast by the shock of Brexit; it breaks a taboo and raises fears of additional break-up by the hands of nationalists like French far-right chief Marine Le Pen. She is going to contest her nation's presidential election run-off on Might 7, although few anticipate her to beat centrist Emmanuel Macron.

The EU sees it as very important that Britain not be seen to revenue from Brexit to keep away from encouraging different states to comply with go well with.

Nevertheless, some officers are additionally voicing concern that the method of weaving maximalist calls for into the negotiating textual content might danger souring the environment with Might, who expects to start out talks shortly after the UK election she has referred to as for June Eight.

Senior officers in Brussels consider the danger of a breakdown in talks that would see Britain merely strolling out into chaotic authorized limbo in March 2019 has diminished since Might wrote to Tusk on March 29 in phrases recognising she must compromise.

However German Chancellor Angela Merkel, dealing with her personal election in September, warned Britain this week towards lingering "illusions" of how a lot entry it might retain to EU markets.

And a few diplomats worry the tone of EU negotiating calls for might sound too aggressive and create a well-liked backlash in Britain which may then make it arduous for Might to agree a deal.

"These are legally strong arguments," one stated, noting for instance a requirement Britain not solely lose the EMA and EBA but in addition pay the shifting prices. "However we do not need to sound too punitive."

(Further reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Farah Salhi, Philip Blenkinsop and Foo Yun Chee; Modifying by Mark Trevelyan)