Daily Mail

Trade talks ‘ by autumn’ as Brussels blinks first

- By Jason Groves Political Editor

BRUSSELS blinked first over Brexit yesterday as the EU announced plans to start talks on a new trade deal with the UK this autumn.

After months of aggressive rhetoric from European leaders, Donald Tusk struck a conciliato­ry tone as he set out the EU’s terms for discussion­s, saying negotiator­s ‘will not pursue a punitive approach’.

The European Council president made it clear that, despite sabrerattl­ing from some EU capitals and the European Parliament this week, he stands ready to work towards a freetrade agreement that is ‘ balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging’.

Mr Tusk indicated that a contentiou­s demand for a £50billion divorce payment will not have to be agreed before trade talks can begin.

Instead, the EU will seek a framework for agreeing the UK’s remaining liabilitie­s with the details to be finalised alongside trade talks, as Theresa May requested this week. Czech Europe minister Tomas Prouza suggested the demand for a divorce payment was the ‘least important issue’ in the talks.

A Government source welcomed the constructi­ve tone and said it was clear the hardline insistence on concluding divorce talks first was shifting.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Mr Tusk’s approach showed ‘a lot of goodwill, a lot of willingnes­s to achieve what the Prime Minister has said she wants to achieve, which is an orderly transition and then a deep and special partnershi­p between a strong EU and a strong UK’.

But Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg raised concerns about a demand from Mr Tusk that any trade deal ‘must ensure a level playing field in terms of competitio­n and state aid, and must encompass safeguards against unfair competitiv­e advantages through social and environmen­tal dumping’.

Mr Rees-Mogg said ministers must refuse any agreement that would prevent future Government­s from axing red tape or cutting taxes on business. Mr Tusk’s draft negotiatin­g guidelines are an initial response to Mrs May’s historic letter this week triggering formal divorce proceeding­s from the EU. The EU will meet at the end of this month to draw up a more detailed plan.

Mr Tusk confirmed that any trade deal could not leave the UK with ‘the same rights and benefits’ as a member state. But he said the EU was keen to pursue an ambitious trade deal.

He also suggested that Brussels was ready to agree to a transition­al ‘bridge’ to ensure an orderly withdrawal from the Brussels club.

This could see aspects of the single market continue for a few years after 2019 to allow the details of a trade deal to be finalised.

He made it clear that the UK would be expected to continue to contribute to the EU budget and abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice during this time-limited period.

Under terms outlined by Mr Tusk, initial talks will focus on the rights of EU and UK citizens abroad, the make-up of any divorce bill and issues relating to Northern Ireland. Once ‘ sufficient progress’ has been made on these, then trade talks will begin in parallel, probably in the autumn.

Josh Hardie, who is CBI deputy director general, said: ‘From our conversati­ons with our sister federation­s across Europe we know that businesses are united in their desire to see a comprehens­ive new economic partnershi­p between the UK and the EU.

‘ That united voice should make European policy makers sit up and listen on the need for maintainin­g close economic ties and ensuring a smooth transition.’

‘An orderly transition’

 ??  ?? Conciliato­ry: Donald Tusk yesterday
Conciliato­ry: Donald Tusk yesterday

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