EU leaders have agreed to start preparing for trade talks with the UK – as Theresa May admits there is “some way to go” in negotiations.
As expected, her 27 EU counterparts agreed at a Brussels summit that not enough progress had been made on other issues to begin formal trade talks now.
But by starting internal talks, they are paving the way for them to begin, possibly in December.
Mrs May said she was “ambitious and positive” about the negotiations.
The other 27 EU leaders have gathered in Brussels for a crunch summit to assess the progress made so far in Brexit negotiations with the UK, which is due to leave the EU in March 2019, following last year’s referendum result.
They have officially concluded that “insufficient progress” has been made in negotiations over citizens’ rights, the UK’s financial obligation and the border in Northern Ireland to allow them to move onto the second phase of talks with the UK dealing with trade discussions, after a discussion lasting just 90 seconds.
But European Council president Donald Tusk said they had given the green light to preparations for the “second phase” of Brexit talks, dealing with trade.
Speaking after the summit, Mrs May said: “I am ambitious and positive for Britain’s future and for these negotiations but I know we still have some way to go.”
The prime minister made a personal appeal to her EU counterparts at a working dinner last night, telling them that “we must work together to get to an outcome that we can stand behind and defend to our people”, a senior government source told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
By BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg
It is not what the original UK government plan was – that this autumn the EU would get on with working out the big picture.
But it means that Theresa May does not go home empty-handed.
At her press conference this morning she was able to hail progress.
But by agreeing to talk about talks, this tricky process has only moved forward a couple of inches in a journey of many many miles.
And there are still big questions – how much are we willing to pay, how closely aligned do we want to be with the EU in the future?
How will the Conservative Party and the cabinet manage to get to a common place on their ambitions for Brexit when there are such internal divisions?
Read Laura’s blog
BBC Europe editor Katya Adler said all EU leaders knew Mrs May was in a politically difficult situation and did not want her to go home empty handed, so had promised they would start talking about trade and transition deals among themselves, as early as Monday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there were “encouraging” signs of progress in Brexit negotiations and suggested formal trade talks could begin in December – when EU leaders are next scheduled to meet.
She said the process was progressing “step by step” despite British media reports that negotiations were not advancing.
“I have absolutely no doubt that if we are all focused – and the speech in Florence made a contribution towards that – we can achieve a good result,” she said.
“From my side there are no indications at all that we won’t succeed.”
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