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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Juncker: it will take a ‘miracle’ for trade talks to start in October

Progress on initial Brexit discussions has been too glacial for agreement to take place

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker talks with journalists as he arrives for a European Union summit. AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker talks with journalists as he arrives for a European Union summit. AFP PHOTO/JANEK SKARZYNSKI

The President of the European Commission declared on Friday that it would take “miracles” for talks about Brexit to have moved on enough by the end of October for the two sides to then begin negotiations about a future trade deal between Britain and the EU.

“By the end of October we will not have sufficient progress,” Jean-Claude Juncker said as he arrived at an EU summit in Tallinn. “I’m saying there will be no sufficient progress from now until October unless miracles will happen.”

A final decision about moving on to the next stage of discussions will be made at a summit in Brussels on October 19-20 whether there has been “sufficient progress” for trade talks to progress. Prior to that, MEPs will vote on October 3 on the same issue.

This vote will take place hours earlier than UK prime minister Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative conference. If the MEPs reject the possibility of talks, it will undoubtedly overshadow Mrs May’s set-piece speech

Also speaking at the summit in Talinn, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar gave some succour to the PM when he said there was a “better vibe and a better mood” coming from the talks, but warned that they were “not at the point where we can get onto the future relationship.

“It’s still very evident there's more work to be done.”

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Mrs May insisted there had been “very good progress” on the rights of EU expatriates, following a major Brexit speech she gave in Florence last week.

“In my Florence speech I set out very clearly how we could ensure that the rights of those EU citizens were guaranteed in the UK,” May told reporters.

“That has been part of the negotiations that we've had, very good progress has been made, that was made clear by the statements made by David Davis and Michel Barnier made yesterday,” she said.

EU negotiator Barnier and his British counterpart Davis wrapped up a fourth round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Thursday saying there had been progress following May’s speech, but with Barnier saying it could take “months” to move to trade discussions.

The EU has insisted on progress in three key divorce issues: Britain's exit bill, the fate of Northern Ireland, and the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain and a million Britons living in Europe.