Brussels warns Theresa May ANY EU member can BLOCK the start of Brexit trade talks if she fails to make a ‘serious’ offer to guarantee the rights of European citizens

  • Council President Tusk stood by a demand the past relationship is resolved first
  • This means the Brexit bill, dealing with EU citizens and resolving the Irish border
  • The UK was determined to push for talks on the future to take place in parallel
  • But in a rare show of complete unity, the EU27 agreed its position in four minutes

EU Council President Donald Tusk demanded a ‘serious’ offer from Britain on guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens after Brexit before trade talks can begin.

Mr Tusk said there was a list of rights that must be guaranteed and warned any EU state could veto the start of talks about the future relationship if they were unhappy.

At a joint press conference, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had a document ready on 25 citizens’ rights but warned if Britain haggles over it will take a ‘huge amount of time’.

Mr Tusk said ‘sufficient progress’ must be made on citizens’ rights, the Brexit settlement bill and the Irish border before trade talks can be begun.

He warned: ‘It will be for EU leaders to decide if sufficient progress has been made.’

Mr Tusk hailed the ‘unity’ of the remaining 27 EU members after they adopted negotiating guidelines in just four minutes.

Britain’s hopes of parallel talks on the end of Britain’s membership and the future trade deal appeared to have been killed off day as the EU signed off an almost unchanged set of negotiating guidelines.

The agreement at the European Council today (pictured is Angela Merekel talking to Maltese premier Joseph Muscat) was reached in moments in a rare signal of EU unity

The guidelines agreed today set the rules by which chief negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured at today's EU Council) will tackle the detailed talks

France's President Francois Hollande (left with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr Barnier) agreed the summit conclusions as one of his final acts

Mr Juncker told the press conference: ‘I have the impression some times that our British friends underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face.

‘The single question of citizens’ rights, in fact 25 different questions, which have to be solved. This will take time.

‘This will take a huge amount of time – although as a Commission and Michel Barnier we have already prepared a text that could be adopted immediately if our British friends would be ready to sign it

‘That will probably not happen.’

After the agreement was struck, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said: ‘We are ready. We are together.’

Arriving at the talks in Brussels earlier today, Mr Tusk was unrepentant in his demand for a ‘phased’ approach to the two year talks in defiance of Britain’s wishes.

And he revealed he has a ‘list’ of rights currently held by EU citizens that must be protected in Britain after Brexit.

As EU leaders continued to discuss Brexit issues, a spokesman for Mr Tusk confirmed there had been no changes to the draft guidelines.

‘The guidelines are exactly as you have already seen them and there are no changes to the draft guidelines, they have been now adopted.’

The latest draft provoked claims Brussels was meddling in the future of Northern Ireland after it made clear the province would be welcomed back to the EU if it ever joined a united Ireland.

The build up to today’s summit was dominated by a warning from German chancellor Angela Merkel that some in Britain have a ‘delusion’ that Britain’s arrangements outside Europe would be better than inside.

The intervention prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to complain the EU was ganging up on Britain.

Luxembourg's Prime minister Xavier Bettel arrives to take part in the EU leaders summit

Luxembourg’s Prime minister Xavier Bettel arrives to take part in the EU leaders summit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media as she arrives for the special European summit

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to take part in the EU leaders summit at the Europa building

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to take part in the EU leaders summit at the Europa building

As he arrived in Brussels today, Mr Tusk said: ‘We all want a close and strong future relationship with the UK – there is absolutely no question about that.

‘But before discussing our future we have to sort out our past, and we will handle it with genuine care, but fairly.

‘This I think is the only possible way to move forward.

‘We also need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides.

‘This must be the number one priority for the EU and the UK.

‘And the Commission has already prepared a precise and detailed list of citizens’ rights we want to protect.’

Mr Tusk has also signalled a desire to resolve the thorny problem of the Irish border – and how to avoid customs and immigrant checkpoints on the politically sensitive frontier – before moving negotiations to the second stage.

Aside from dealing with the present day border, the European Council may also address its approach if the day came when the people of Northern Ireland voted to end partition and join a united Ireland.

EU leaders are ultimately expected to agree that, in such circumstances, Northern Ireland would automatically assume the EU membership already held by the Republic of Ireland, rather than having to reapply.

The build up to today's summit was dominated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured yesterday) claiming Brexiteers had a 'delusion' about the benefits of quitting Europe 

The build up to today’s summit was dominated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured yesterday) claiming Brexiteers had a ‘delusion’ about the benefits of quitting Europe

Theresa May hit back at the German Chancellor on Friday (pictured) as she complained the rest of the EU was lining up in opposition to Britain 

One of the more controversial elements of Mr Tusk’s draft guidelines in March was a suggested veto for Spain on any future UK/EU agreements that involved Gibraltar.

Another recent issue of contention is whether a free trade deal would include the financial services industry and, if it did, whether City of London institutions would still be bound by Brussels oversight.

Former Northern Ireland first minister Lord Trimble said there was no need to include a passage on the possibility of a united Ireland, saying it would only ‘stir up nationalist feeling’.

The former Ulster Unionist leader told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘From the point of view of the Irish there is no need to introduce this, it’s actually playing games with nationalist feelings and I wonder why the Irish government is doing this and why Europe is going along with it.’

He went on: ‘Stirring up nationalist feeling is not necessarily a wise thing to do, but what I would like to do is to focus on the real issue, and the real issue in terms of the border is tariffs.’


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