Donald Tusk says EU leaders agree to start "internal preparations" for Brexit trade talks

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Donald Tusk is the European Council president (Source: Getty)

European Council president Donald Tusk today said EU leaders have agreed to start "internal preparations" for the second phase of Brexit negotiations, after reports suggested Theresa May has privately given ground on the so-called divorce bill.

At a press conference in Brussels, Tusk said: “I hope that we will be able to move to the second phase of our talks in December.”

Tusk explicitly called for a "more positive narrative" in negotiations, after "only good will" in talks today.

"I want to be the positive motivator for the next five or six weeks," Tusk added.

While European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave a more pessimistic view, he also gave a sign that talks will not break down. "I hate the 'no deal' scenario," Juncker said.

"I am not in favour of no deal; I want to have a fair deal with Britain," he said.

European leaders this morning gave the "green light" on preparations, Tusk announced on Twitter.

The UK government has been keen to move onto negotiations on the future trading relationship with the EU, but talks have been held up by the first phase, dealing with separation issues, including the highly symbolic divorce bill.

EU negotiators have previously bemoaned limited progress on the first round, with a steadfast commitment to keeping the "sequencing" of negotiations firm. A move towards the second round would represent a welcome development for the British government, although it is unclear how "internal preparations" differ from the work which has already been started behind the scenes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday night talks with Britain were moving forward and were unlikely to break down.

Positive and optimistic

Meanwhile, speaking today in Brussels, May said she had given "reassurance" to EU leaders on the divorce bill, after the Times newspaper this morning reported she had committed to pay an extra €20bn in future liabilities.

She added she was "positive and optimistic" about the progress of negotiations, and praised the "professionalism and constructive spirit" of both sides.

The pound climbed against the euro, rising 0.4 per cent to €1.1150 in the late morning.

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