Theresa May said she is “positive and optimistic” about the progress of Brexit negotiations, despite failing to convince EU leaders to approve the beginning of the next round of formal talks at a summit in Brussels.
Speaking after a breakfast with fellow EU leaders in which she made a final effort to convince them to allow the beginning of discussions over a transition arrangement, Mrs May said “I know we still have some way to go”, but added that “both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and a constructive spirit and we should recognise what has been achieved to date”.
European Council president Donald Tusk announced this morning that the EU-27 would begin internal preparations for the next phase of negotiations, but there has not been sufficient progress on the issues of citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and a divorce bill to start formal talks.
The prime minister said her policy speech in Florence last month “has added new impetus” to the negotiations, which have since proceeded with a “new spirit”. Mrs May reiterated her belief that the two sides are withing “touching distance” of an agreement on citizens’ rights, and said they are committed to finding a “flexible and imaginative” solution to questions over the future of the Irish border.
However, she repeatedly declined to comment on whether the UK would be willing to pay more than the previously-announced £20bn “Brexit bill”, noting only that the negotiating team is examining its commitments “line by line”, and will agree a final settlement as part of a broader final agreement on its future partnership with the EU.
Mrs May’s conciliatory tone this week has already been welcomed by some leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel, though others were less impressed. On Friday morning Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Austrian prime minister Christian Kern both called for more tangible proposals from the UK, instead of “rhetoric”.
Separately, the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee earlier on Friday launched an inquiry into the UK’s economic relationship with the EU, warning that “firms and individuals need certainty about the situation after March 2019″.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker earlier this morning said he was “cautiously hopeful” about the progress of negotiations.