Six things Donald Tusk's guidelines have taught us about the EU's Brexit negotiation strategy

Kenza Bryan
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Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission will heavily shape any future Brexit deal (Source: Getty)

Donald Tusk kick-started Europe's response to the triggering of Article 50 by publishing draft negotiation guidelines for Brexit this morning.

The document released by the President of the European Council will not be made official until a summit of the 27 European governments next month, but it points to the direction talks may take over the next two years.

Tusk added more details to the negotiation stance at a press conference in Malta, telling reporters "this is my first divorce and I hope my last one."

Aside from his cracking sense of humour, here are six things we learned about the EU's Brexit negotiation plans.

1. The EU definitely won't enter into trade talks before the UK has picked up the Brexit bill

The UK will have to pay its exit bill in a single financial settlement before the EU agrees to engage in talks over trade. The "phased approach" suggested in the guidelines explicitly rejects Prime Minister Theresa May's demands to conduct trade and divorce discussions in parallel (although it may not be as ominous as all that).

The bill is estimated to be worth €60bn (£51bn). Tusk said the EU27 (the EU countries excluding the UK) "does not and will not pursue a punitive approach. Brexit in itself is already punitive enough". Ooof.

2. Then again, it definitely might

The concept of a strict two-stage approach seems to contradict Tusk's statement, also made today, that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", and that negotiations will work as a package in which "individual items cannot be settled separately."

Tusk told reporters a trade deal could in fact be underway by autumn, as long as "sufficient progress" has been made in agreeing the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The Maltese Prime Minister (who currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council) told ITV the bill will need to be agreed on in principle rather than necessarily paid in full before trade talks go ahead.

Ambiguity surrounding the bill highlights the difficulty Tusk will face in implementing a "unified" strategy in which individual member states refrain from negotiating with the UK on their own terms.

3. Northern Ireland will be discussed from the get-go

Avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will be one of the few discussion points to feature in the first phase of divorce negotiations. "It is of crucial importance to support the peace process in Northern Ireland", the guidelines state.

This comes after May highlighted the issue as one of the seven key principles in her Article 50 letter hand-delivered to Donald Tusk on Wednesday.

Agreement on Britain's military bases in Cyprus will also need to be reached.

4. The EU will oppose any scrapping of taxes or regulations

Somewhat ambitiously, the guidelines state a free-trade agreement will be dependent on Britain leaving the bulk of its tax, labour and environmental law intact.

5. The UK is unlikely to get access to the Single Market

The first core principle outlined in Tusk's nine-page document "welcomes the recognition by the British government that the four freedoms of the Single Market are indivisible and that there can be no 'cherry picking'".

"Any free trade agreement should be balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging", it adds – as long as this stops short of including access to the Single Market, which would undermine "its integrity and proper functioning".

Read more: Verhofstadt wants to find a way for Britons to keep EU membership right

6. ... but it will still be subject to the European Court of Justice

Any potential disputes over the UK's withdrawal from the EU should be compatible with the ECJ's current "autonomy and its legal order", Tusk clarified.

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