Brexit: UK and EU agree talks must accelerate at "friendly" Brussels dinner ahead of European Council meeting

 
Catherine Neilan
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"See you on Thursday" (Source: Getty)

Prime Minister Theresa May and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker last night agreed that Brexit talks "should accelerate over the months to come" - but there was little evidence that the Brussels dinner had broken the deadlock in negotiations.

A joint statement issued shortly after last night's meeting said the dinner "took place in a constructive and friendly atmosphere", and there had been a "broad, constructive exchange on current European and global challenges", including the Iran nuclear deal and terrorism, as well as Brexit and the upcoming European Council meeting, which takes place on Thursday.

The brief statement added that "as regards the Article 50 negotiations, both sides agreed that these issues are being discussed in the framework agreed between the EU27 and the United Kingdom, as set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

"The Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission reviewed the progress made in the Article 50 negotiations so far and agreed that these efforts should accelerate over the months to come."

However, there was nothing about the technical issues of the divorce bill or any comment regarding "sufficient progress" - which must be agreed by the EU27 at the end of this week if the second stage of talks is to be unlocked, finally allowing negotiators to discuss trade and transition.

A draft statement circulating among European Council officials suggests that Council President Donald Tusk is keen for talks to progress.

The document, which was obtained by Reuters and a final version of which will be published on Friday, says "The European Council calls for work to continue with a view to consolidating the convergence achieved and pursuing negotiations in order to be able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible."

On Thursday the Council will "reassess the state of progress in negotiations" - which could lead to the EU starting "internal preparatory discussions" regarding trade.

The latest diplomatic manoeuvres come as top lobby group TheCityUK doubled-down on demands for urgent clarity over the government's plan for transitional arrangements, warning that a deal must be fleshed out before it becomes “too late” to protect businesses on both sides of the channel.

The report warns that City businesses will be "disappearing by the day" if a deal is not in place within a matter of weeks, noting that although firms will have "different cut-off points for activating contingency plans", clarity will be needed by the first quarter of next year "at the latest".

The paper argues for transition to be "as close as possible to the status quo", including retaining "all of the rights and obligations" of the Single Market. In the longer term, TheCityUK argues that the UK must not be left as a rule-taker.

Meanwhile a new survey of mid-sized firms suggests businesses aren't expecting a no-deal scenario. 45 per cent of companies surveyed by YouGov for consultancy RSM said they expect the government to secure a “good deal.”

This is more than double the number who said they were not confident - around 21 per cent of respondents.

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