The launch of talks with the UK on a post-Brexit relationship could be delayed into next year.
A meeting of ambassadors from the 27 other EU member states had been due to begin discussing how to negotiate the transition that will start when Britain parts with Brussels in 17 months.
However, insiders say the discussions were dominated by the fear that London will fail to meet the EU conditions for opening further talks on December the 14th.
Who said what?
Once again, lead powers Germany and France insisted UK Prime Minister Theresa May agree in principle to pay an exit bill in the tens of billions of euros to Brussels before leaders agree to open the next round of negotiations.
They told May at a summit last month that they were ready to do that.
British officials are in Brussels on Thursday and Friday for more talks on the financial settlement as well as rights for EU citizens and the Irish border question.
“They should not think they are sailing ahead into the next phase,” one EU official told reporters.
“While the transition and the future relationship were formally on the agenda, what ambassadors focused very much on was real concern that the UK does not realise that the EU27 are deadly serious on the need to meet the ‘sufficient progress’ mark on the three first-phase issues.”
“The focus was very much on the here and now and the fact that the UK is so far away from meeting the sufficient progress point and that we are rapidly running out of time.”
The transition period
Several EU officials say the UK will have to abide by all EU laws in the transition period, even if they are changed during that time.
However, the UK would have no vote on them.
The transition period, pencilled in for two years by both sides, might have to be extended to give more time for a trade agreement.
May – the pressure is on
Theresa May is struggling with the loss of a second scandal-hit cabinet minister in a week.
Germany, France and others are ramping up the pressure on her to cut a deal in the knowledge that businesses are piling on their own demands for clarity before making inestment decisions in the new year.
Some Brexit backers in her own goverment are urging May to walk out without a withdrawal deal, arguing that the EU also has an interest in an orderly split and that the UK can withstand any disruption.
What they are saying
“We should not be pressured or rushed. They really should come up with the money,” said one senior EU diplomat.
“It is impossible to get any bespoke trade deal in two years or so. And for all that time, the UK would be an EU colony – forced to accept our laws with no say,” – an EU parliament official who deals with Brexit.