Crucial lunch date for Juncker and May

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker have an important lunch date next week

A lunch in Brussels on Monday between the British prime minister and the EU Commission president will be a crucial moment for Brexit.

Theresa May is scheduled to meet Jean-Claude Juncker and she is expected to seek to prove to him that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made in all the key ‘phase one’ areas of the negotiation so that talks on the ‘future relationship’ including trade and a transitional period may start before the end of the year. She will be hoping he will use his influence when it comes to the decision that will be taken by the EU27 leaders at a summit on December 14-15.

Mr Juncker confirmed to journalists “we will see if there has been sufficient progress” when he meets with Mrs May.

According to rumours in the British media, UK and EU negotiators have now reached broad agreement on the issue of the exit settlement which has been a major sticking point, however this has not been officially confirmed.

Many commentators see this as a crunch time – if the EU does not agree to move on to ‘phase two’ there will be renewed fears that the country could crash out in 2019 without any deal in place, leaving expats in ‘limbo’ and at the mercy of their countries of residence.

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Meanwhile however a leading expat campaign coalition, British in Europe, has raised concerns that an agreement on ‘sufficient progress’ this month could mean remaining rights issues such as ‘onward free movement’ being forgotten in the rush to talk about a raft of new matters like trade and flights. Chairwoman Jane Golding, who met EU negotiator Michel Barnier recently, said if necessary the first part of the talks should be prolonged into the new year and this would not necessarily mean there will be no deal.

A new resolution on the ‘progress’ issue is also expected shortly from the European Parliament, which has a role in scrutinising the negotiation and has the right to a vote on the final deal which could amount to a veto if it considers it to be unsatisfactory.

There have been claims in the British media that British negotiators have now agreed to EU demands over the ‘divorce bill’, which have been estimated to amount to a total of almost €60billion.

It is unlikely that a precise figure will emerge in the next weeks, but it is said that Britain has largely accepted the main items that Brussels says should form part of the settlement, which had been lacking so far. The EU says its demands are not punitive but are about Britain honouring all the commitments it made as a member, including a share of various programmes that have been budgeted for and paying a portion of EU officials’ pensions, as well as compensating for expenses incurred by Brexit itself such as having to move major agencies out of London to Paris and Amsterdam.

Apart from expat rights, on which the UK has claimed it is ‘in touching distance’ of a deal, and the exit settlement, the other major ‘phase one’ issue which must be deemed to have progressed in order for trade talks to start is the Northern Ireland/Ireland border. Of the three, it appears that this may now be the one most likely to prevent an agreement that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made.

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