Juncker says miracles needed for progress on Brexit talks

Juncker says miracles needed for progress on Brexit talks

European commission president strikes pessimistic tone on movement to phase two of Brexit talks, as EU leaders meet in in Tallinn

Jean-Claude Juncker has effectively ruled out a widening of the Brexit negotiations next month to take in a future trading relationship between Britain and the bloc, despite an acknowledgement by senior EU officials that Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week had been “full of concessions”.

“At the end of October, we will not have sufficient progress”, the president of the European commission said in Tallinn, Estonia, at a summit of EU leaders. “I’m saying that there will be no sufficient progress from now until October unless miracles would happen.”

Juncker’s tone was strikingly pessimistic, in contrast to some EU leaders, as he told reporters there had not been enough movement by the British on its financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border.

Brussels has long demanded sufficient progress on those issues before it fulfils the UK’s wish to move on to talks about trade. The UK had hoped to get the go-ahead on future trade talks when EU leaders meet again next month.

Juncker’s comments will reinforce the British government’s fear that the European commission – the EU’s executive body – is acting as a block on progress.

This week, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, embarked on a charm offensive of senior ministers in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark, with British government sources explaining that they felt a need to explain their position without the filter of the commission, and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

On Thursday, Barnier hailed a “new dynamic” to the negotiations in the wake of May’s Florence speech, but suggested that talks could remain in a stalemate for months unless the UK agreed to honour all its financial commitments.

May made pledges on the divorce bill and citizens’ rights in Florence. Speaking in Talinn on Friday, she repeated her hope that the speech would give the talks momentum, which she hoped would be reciprocated in Brussels.

A Downing Street spokesman said May had reiterated that aspiration to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, during a face to face meeting on the margins of the summit.

The spokesman said Merkel had welcomed the Florence speech and that the two leaders had agreed on the need to settle the issue of citizens’ rights “at the earliest opportunity”.

Christian Kern, the Austrian chancellor, said he was pleased May had made clear to fellow leaders during a dinner in Tallinn on Thursday night that she was “not leaving Europe but the EU and is willing to cooperate”.

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