European Union leaders told British Prime Minister Theresa May to match her goodwill pledges to boost Brexit negotiations with concrete proposals if she really wants to start discussing a future trade deal by December.
May yesterday used a dinner at a Brussels summit of the 28-nation bloc to push her call for urgency on trade talks and get a deal she can sell at home in the British leader’s latest attempt to reinvigorate the divorce talks.
“We must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” May told the leaders, who left less than fully convinced.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he understood May’s desire to move things along. “I get that. I also want deals I can sell at home.”
“We still have one-and-half years but we have to make haste,” he added.
But since a conciliatory speech by May last month, EU officials have become increasingly impatient about a lack of detailed plans from Britain.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said May is making more of an effort with EU partners toward a Brexit deal, but it was “not enough.”
Rutte agreed. “We will need more meat on the bone,” he said.
Rutte was talking about the money that Britain will owe the EU for previous commitments it made once it leaves in March 2019. Estimates vary from 20 billion euros to 60 billion euros (USD 24 billion to USD 71 billion) or even more to settle commitments like long-term development projects or EU pensions.
“I’d prefer a sum, so we can negotiate about it. But if this is asking too much, then at least have a proposal of how to get to a sum. But even that she hasn’t been able to produce,” Rutte said.
Still, Rutte said providing a proper method to tally what Britain owes the EU might be good enough to allow leaders to call it “sufficient progress” so that talks could move to a second stage in December. “It is about trust, whether the negotiator has enough trust. If there are no concrete figures on the table, that there is a method which can lead to a result,” Rutte said.
At EU headquarters in Brussels, May faced 27 EU counterparts united in blocking her goal of quickly wrapping up the first phase of Brexit talks. With less than 18 months to go until Britain leaves the bloc, the negotiations are still stuck on the terms of its departure.
May had hoped that post-divorce issues like trade could be on the table starting next week.
She came with an olive branch in the form of a pledge to protect the EU citizens now in Britain after the nation leaves. The future status of the 3 million EU citizens living in Britain and the 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc has been a main sticking point in negotiations.