BRUSSELS (AP) — Negotiators from the European Union and Britain met Thursday for an abbreviated round of divorce talks, amid warnings that time is running out to reach an agreement before Brexit in March 2019.
Technical talks were due to fill the first day of the two-day round, as the sides look to move forward on the key issues of Britain's financial commitments, the status of Irish borders and the future of citizens hit by Britain's departure from the bloc.
Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted Wednesday: "More progress needed."
EU leaders are increasingly frustrated with Britain's reluctance to signal how much it is willing to pay to settle its commitments to the 28-nation bloc. The Brexit bill— estimated by the EU at somewhere around 60 billion euros ($70 billion) — is a key sticking point preventing the EU from allowing talks to move on to trade and future relations.
With less than 18 months until Britain leaves the EU, the U.K. is eager to start discussing future relations, including a hoped-for free trade deal and a two-year transition period after Brexit.
But the 27 other EU leaders refuse to address that until "sufficient progress" has been made on the divorce terms. They will decide in mid-December whether to move forward.
EU leaders agreed last month to speed up talks, but this new round has taken time to organize and is scheduled to last just two days. Few expect a major breakthrough.
U.K. officials insist progress is being made behind the scenes, saying repeatedly in recent weeks that the two sides are close to a deal on the status of 3 million EU nationals in Britain, and 1 million Britons in other EU countries.
Brexit Secretary David Davis — due to meet Barnier in Brussels Friday — said this week that "safeguarding the rights of EU citizens is our top priority in negotiations."
But the European Parliament's Brexit steering group said Wednesday that "There are still major issues that have to be resolved" on citizens' rights.
Britain's position is complicated by multiple crises for Prime Minister Theresa May's minority Conservative government. It is deeply divided over what kind of deal it is seeking with the EU, faces strong opposition in Parliament to key Brexit legislation and has been shaken by two Cabinet departures in the past week.
Lawless reported from London.