Theresa May pleads for EU to move on to "next stage" of Brexit negotiations

PUBLISHED: 09:03 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:43 24 November 2017

Theresa May

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Theresa May has issued a fresh plea for European Union leaders to move onto the "next stage" in the Brexit negotiations.

Arriving in Brussels for the EU Eastern Partnership summit, the Prime Minister said the EU and the UK needed to "step forward together" in the ongoing talks.

She confirmed she will be meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in the margins of the gathering later today.

It follows Mr Tusk's warning that the EU needed greater clarity on the terms of Britain's withdrawal, including the divorce bill, by early December if there was to be any chance of leaders giving the go-ahead for phase two of the Brexit negotiations to start at their next summit later in the month.

Mrs May told reporters: "I will be seeing President Tusk here today, talking about the positive discussions we are having looking ahead to the deep and special partnership I want with the European Union.

"These negotiations are continuing but what I am clear about is that we must step forward together.

"This is for both the UK and the European Union to move onto the next stage."

Since her last meeting with Mr Tusk at an EU gathering in Gothenburg, Sweden, a week ago the Cabinet has met to discuss what it would be prepared to pay to settle the UK's "divorce bill" in order to break the stalemate in the negotiations.

Mr Tusk will be expected to probe her on reports that ministers agreed to double the sum originally put on the table by Mrs May to around £40bn.

But it is thought she does not want to name a precise figure until she has a clear idea of what kind of trade deal is available with the remaining EU member states in the phase two negotiations.

The Eastern Partnership summit brings together EU leaders with those of six former Soviet states, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Mrs May claimed Britain was committed to European security, regardless of the fact that it is leaving the EU.

"We must be open-eyed about the actions of hostile states like Russia who threaten the potential growth of the eastern neighbourhood and who try to tear our collective strength apart," she said.

"The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to continuing to play our leading role in maintaining Europe's security.

"We may be leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe."

Mrs May also came under fresh pressure from Ireland where premier Leo Varadkar is demanding a written guarantee that there will be no return to a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic as a result of Brexit.

Arriving in Brussels, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said British assurances on the issue were "aspirational" and that they needed a "credible roadmap" as to how that could actually be achieved.

"We can't move to phase two on the basis of aspiration.

"We have move to phase two on the basis of a credible road map or the parameters around which we can design a credible road map to ensure that it doesn't happen," he said.

"The truth is that if we see regulatory divergence between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland it is very hard to see in that scenario how you avoid hard border checks," he said.

"So we need progress on this issue in the context of the regulatory divergence issues.

"I hope and expect that we can get that by December so that we can all move on.

"If we can't, then I think there is going to be a difficulty coming up."

He added: "I don't think Ireland will have to block anything on its own.

"There is absolute solidarity across 27 countries here.

"They are with Ireland on this.

"We are not talking about a 'no deal' here.

"What we are talking about is whether we can move on to opening up phase two in parallel with phase one issues in December.

"Without sufficient progress on the Irish issues that can't happen."

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