Donald Tusk has revealed his tough Brexit negotiating tactics and predicted two years of confrontation between London and Brussels
The European Union will not look to punish Britain for quitting Europe because ‘Brexit is punitive enough’.
Outlining the approach the EU will take towards the negotiations President Donald Tusk said the countdown to Brexit in 2019 would be ‘difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational’.
He added that negotiations on future trade relations could begin as early as this autumn but talks will only take place once ‘sufficient progress’ has been achieved on the arrangements for Britain’s withdrawal.
Tusk did not spell out what progress would be regarded as sufficient, but his words are likely to be interpreted as referring to the settlement of a ‘divorce bill’ of an estimated £50 billion set to be presented to the UK.
Unveiling his draft negotiating guidelines for forthcoming withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, Tusk insisted that Brussels will take a ‘constructive’ approach but withdrawal talks would be a matter of ‘damage control’ following a Brexit decision which had created ‘disruption and uncertainty’.
But he said: ‘The EU27 does not and will not pursue a punitive approach. Brexit in itself is already punitive enough.
‘After more than 40 years of being united, we owe it to each other to do everything we can to make this divorce as smooth as possible.’
Speaking in Malta, Tusk said he will visit London for talks with Theresa May ahead of a special summit of the 27 remaining EU states in Brussels on April 29, when they are expected to approve the negotiating guidelines, clearing the way for talks to begin in earnest.
But he issued a firm rejection of Britain’s call for simultaneous divorce and trade talks something Number 10 has been very keen to do.
‘Starting parallel talks on both issues at the same time, as suggested by some in the UK, will not happen,’ he said.
But he held out the hope that talks could move on to future trade relations within a matter of months.
‘It must be clear that EU, as 27, decides if sufficient progress has been achieved, probably in the autumn, at least I hope so.’
While the guidelines insist that a trade deal can only be formally concluded once the UK has ceased its membership, they add that it will be possible to negotiate ‘an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship’ prior to Brexit to allow for a swift agreement after withdrawal.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the guidelines showed ‘the strength of the EU in these negotiations and the carelessness of the UK Government in isolating themselves from our European allies’.
He added: ‘The terms are clear: no sector-by-sector deals, no bilateral negotiations and no new trade deal until the withdrawal terms are agreed. This leaves no doubt that (Brexit Secretary David) Davis’ comments about special arrangements for the car industry or financial sector are worthless.
‘Tory Cabinet ministers talk about securing a deal with Europe that secures the UK exactly the same benefits as before. Theresa May has been taken to Tusk today.’
Labour MP Owen Smith, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: ‘Two days into a two-year negotiation and the Government’s lofty rhetoric is colliding with hard reality. The Prime Minister’s plan for Britain is a pipe dream.
‘The European Council’s draft guidelines underline the difficulty the Government will have in keeping its Brexit promises. The Prime Minister promised the exact same benefits on trade, but this has been explicitly ruled out today.’