BRUSSELS • The European Union is ready to begin Brexit trade talks at the start of next year, but Britain must first finalise the divorce terms in the next few weeks, sources said yesterday as a sixth round of negotiations kicked off.
EU countries were, however, worried about the effect of a wave of scandals rocking British Prime Minister Theresa May's government on Brexit talks, they said.
"Everything is ready (for the start of trade talks) on Jan 1," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Another European diplomat confirmed that "if we get sufficient progress in December, the EU 27 and (EU negotiator Michel) Barnier will be ready to discuss immediately - say in January - the future relationship".
The sixth round of talks started yesterday morning and a press briefing was scheduled for today.
To break the deadlock, Britain has to make an offer on the Brexit divorce bill that is good enough to satisfy EU leaders, who have the final say on whether talks can move on to the crucial issue of trade. The bloc also demands progress on the Northern Irish border and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.
The timing of the next summit in mid-December means that an agreement probably has to come by the end of this month, according to political risk analysts at Eurasia.
EU diplomats have begun work on two versions of draft summit conclusions for the December gathering - one for the possibility of a breakthrough and another one for continuing stalemate. German government advisers on Wednesday raised the prospect of an extension to the negotiation process, saying talks would likely drag on beyond the two years envisaged in EU rules. A one-time extension in EU membership should be granted, the country's Council of Economic Experts said.
While the prospect will not be welcomed by Britain, it could feed into the debate on the transition agreement that London is keen to pin down.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG