Britain has dropped its “cake-and-eat-it” approach to Brexit, according to the European council president, Donald Tusk, but remains short of the progress necessary to reach the next phase of negotiations.
Despite attempts by Theresa May to circumvent deadlock in Brussels by holding private talks with EU leaders about her latest negotiating stance, Tusk emerged from 90 minutes of discussion in Downing Street with only a slightly warmer response.
“I feel cautiously optimistic about the constructive and more realistic tone of the prime minister’s speech in Florence and our discussion today,” Tusk told reporters. “This shows that the philosophy of having cake and eating it is finally coming to an end. At least I hope so.”
But he insisted that the UK needed to show more willingness to settle its financial obligations and on the rights of EU citizens before the EU would be willing to enter the next phase of talks on a future trade deal.
“We will discuss future relations with the UK once there is sufficient progress,” said the council president, who represents national governments in Brussels. “The sides are working hard at it but if you ask me, and if today member states ask me, I would say there is not sufficient progress yet.”
Earlier, the prime minister urged Tusk to consider her speech last week calling for a transition period and continued payments as a moment to step up their talks.
“Obviously things have moved on in terms of the discussions we’ve been having,” May told the former Polish prime minister as they sat down in No 10.
“By being creative in the ways we approach these issues, we can find solutions that work both for the remaining [EU] 27 but also for the UK and maintain that cooperation and partnership between the UK and the EU,” she added.
She said they would “be able to discuss what I set out last week in Florence – that hope for a deep and special partnership that we want to create with the European Union when we leave” and pointed out that she was also now “unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security and want[ed] to have a good security partnership as well”.
But the EU has shown a united front in its response to the impasse in Brussels, where the chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit secretary David Davis appear no closer to a breakthrough this week.
Responding to Davis’s claim that May’s €20bn offer in her speech in Florence now left no excuse for a lack of progress, Poland’s EU affairs minister Konrad Szymański said separately on Tuesday that he feared the two sides’ starkly contrary perspectives on the talks could lead them to fail.
The UK had legal obligations to meet, Szymański said, but the British government had given the impression to the public that the divorce bill was a punishment to be endured.
“I think we have a fundamental difference of perspective of how we see the negotiations,” he said. “We would prefer to talk about principles, and rules and legal obligations which account from the fact of membership and the presence of the UK in the EU.
“It would be much more transparent, and probably healthy, and maybe easier to understand for the British public opinion and the British parliament.
“We need a good explanation of why this number is fair and this one is not fair. This is a crucial point. Otherwise we will fail.”
This article was written by Dan Roberts and Daniel Boffey in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 26th September 2017 15.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010