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December deadline set for UK's Brexit divorce payment

The EU say the bill must be agreed or no future trade talks will begin.

Donald Tusk: The EU council president is unimpressed with the pace of the talks.
Donald Tusk: The EU council president is unimpressed with the pace of the talks. PA

Britain must deliver "much more progress" on the Brexit divorce bill and the future of the Irish border by the beginning of December, otherwise trade talks will not begin later in the month, the President of the European Council has said.

Following talks with Theresa May, Donald Tusk said the EU has completed the work necessary to give the green light to talks on trade and transition which are due to begin at the next European Council summit in Brussels on December 14 and 15.

Speaking in Sweden, Mr Tusk said "much more progress" was needed from the UK on two of the three issues in withdrawal talks in order to break the deadlock which has prevented the move to the second phase of negotiations which the UK is seeking.

"We will be ready to move on to the second phase already in December, but in order to do that we need to see more progress from the UK side," Mr Tusk said.

"While good progress on citizens' rights is being made, we need to see much more progress on Ireland and on the financial settlement."

Speaking at the conclusion of an EU jobs summit in Gothenburg, Mr Tusk said he had told Mrs May that "this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest...

"If there is not sufficient progress by then, I will not be in a position to propose new guidelines on transition and the future relationship at the December European Council".

Mr Tusk said he and Mrs May agreed to meet again on November 24 "to assess the situation in more detail".

The Prime Minister added that the pair agreed that "good progress has been made but there is more to be done, that we should move forwards together towards that point where sufficient progress can be declared and we can look ahead to what I have already said I want to see as a deep and comprehensive and special partnership between the UK and the remaining 27 members of the EU."

Theresa May: The Prime Minister met EU leaders in Sweden.
Theresa May: The Prime Minister met EU leaders in Sweden. PA

Mrs May is anxious to secure the agreement of EU leaders to open discussions on Britain's future relations with the bloc - including a free trade deal - when they meet next month in Brussels.

But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar made clear that Dublin is ready to delay the start of trade talks beyond the start of next year unless the UK offers further concessions on the border.

"We want taken off the table any suggestion that there will be a physical border, a hard border, new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland," Mr Varadkar warned.

Earlier on Friday, Brexit Secretary David Davis indicated that a compromise might be in the offing over the plan, but the Prime Minister's spokesperson said it was important to provide certainty about the date of the UK's departure from the bloc.

Yet when asked about Mr Davis' claim that the UK had made all the concessions so far in the negotiations, Mr Tusk said: "I can say only that I appreciate Mr Davis's English sense of humour."

In meetings at the summit with Mr Tusk, Mr Varadkar, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Mrs May came under pressure to spell out how much the UK will pay Brussels in a so-called divorce bill in order to secure progress on trade talks.

The Prime Minister repeated her promise that the UK will "honour our commitments" to the EU as it leaves the bloc but came under pressure to provide further "clarity".

Summit host Mr Lofven said the UK needs to clarify what the financial settlement would cover, and it was "very difficult to say" whether trade talks would be given the go-ahead in December.

Reports - dismissed as speculation by Downing Street - suggested Mrs May could be prepared to offer a further £20 billion in payments, which would bring to around £38 billion the total sum Britain is prepared to pay to settle its liabilities - well short of the £53 billion sought by Brussels.

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