EU's Brexit negotiator to unveil plan for Britain talks

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will on Wednesday (May 3) unveil recommendations for forthcoming talks with Britain, despite increasing rancour over how the split will ultimately unfold.

Barnier's comments come four days after leaders of 27 EU nations met - without British Prime Minister Theresa May - and unanimously agreed on a tough overall strategy.

They also follow leaks about a disastrous dinner and exchanges involving May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, which has left the former battling to defend her Brexit strategy.

The row marks a dismal start to the process, although formal negotiations will not begin until after Britain's election on June 8, in which May is expecting to return to office with a stronger mandate.

The high stakes for the British premier were underlined Tuesday when, quizzed on the campaign trail about the dinner clash, she said Juncker would soon find out she can be a "bloody difficult woman".

Barnier, a French former European commissioner and government minister, will be presenting his formal recommendations for the talks based on guidelines agreed on at Saturday's EU 27 summit.

European commissioners will formally adopt his recommendations on Wednesday morning before he gives a press conference at 0900 GMT.

The EU 27 will then on May 22 give Barnier, 66, a formal mandate to conduct talks over the next two years with Britain.

Barnier has said he needs to wrap up talks by October 2018 to get any Brexit deal through the European Parliament in time for Britain's scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, 2019.

Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016 in a closely fought referendum.

'Different galaxy'

And if the first contacts in Britain's divorce from the union it entered four decades ago are anything to go by, the negotiations will be difficult.

Barnier's recommendations, in an early draft seen by AFP, contain a demand for a lifetime guarantee of rights for EU citizens who have lived in Britain for five years.

Under the EU single market, Europeans have the right to live, work and claim benefits in any country in the bloc.

They also echo the EU 27's insistence that talks on a future EU-UK trade deal cannot begin until Britain resolves the issues of "people, money and Ireland".

The EU says London must guarantee the rights of three million citizens living in Britain who are currently able to live, work and claim benefits there.

It is also demanding Britain pay an exit bill of between 40 and 60 billion euros, a sum that the government insists it does not have to pay.

Brussels also says London must resolve issues around the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

May wants trade talks and divorce negotiations to start in parallel - one of the demands that led Juncker to say that some in Britain "underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face".

A report in Sunday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said Juncker left the meeting "10 times more sceptical" about the prospect of a Brexit deal.

It said sources close to the negotiations put the chances of Brexit negotiations collapsing without a deal at more than 50 per cent.

Juncker reportedly informed German Chancellor Angela Merkel of his doubts, saying that May was in a "different galaxy".

Merkel then warned Britain against having "illusions" about the talks, prompting May to hit back by accusing the EU 27 of ganging up against her country.