LONDON (AFP) - EU President Donald Tusk on Tuesday (Sept 26) slapped down Prime Minister Theresa May's bid to unlock negotiations on future ties between Britain and the EU, saying there was "no sufficient progress" so far.
"We will discuss our future relations with the UK once there is so-called sufficient progress," Tusk told reporters outside May's Downing Street office after meeting a two-hour meeting with her.
"If you ask me today... I would say there is no sufficient progress yet but we will work on it".
British and EU officials are locked in a fourth round of negotiations this week ahead of a European summit in October that will decide whether "sufficient progress" has been made on divorce talks.
But Tusk praised a key speech by May last week in which she pledged legal guarantees for EU citizens living in Britain and offered to continue paying into the EU budget during a transition period of up to two years after Britain leaves the EU in 2019.
Tusk said the tone was "constructive and more realistic", adding: "The philosophy of having the cake and eating it is finally coming at an end."
The latter was a reference to a phrase used by hardline Brexit supporters in Britain including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about what the government's approach to negotiations should be.
Firebrand Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), reacted angrily.
"Time we were free of these tin-pot dictators. Nothing will ever be good enough," he said.
The EU has decided that current negotiations should aim to resolve the status of EU citizens living in Britain; the bill Britain will have to pay for the divorce; and the question of what should happen to the Ireland-Northern Ireland border after Brexit.
Only if European leaders decide there has been "sufficient progress" on these three issues would negotiators be allowed to broach the more complex issue of future trade ties between Britain and the EU.
At the start of his meeting with May in Downing Street earlier on Tuesday, Tusk said he was "much more optimistic" after her speech but added: "Of course, we still have to do something maybe more substantive."
May said: "I think that by being creative in the ways that we approach these issues we can find solutions that work both for the remaining 27 but also for the UK."
At the start of the fourth round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Monday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that he would not discuss May's call for a two-year transition deal until there was progress on the other issues.
But in a sign of the circular arguments that have characterised the negotiations so far, British Brexit minister David Davis linked any settlement of the multibillion-euro bill to reaching a deal on future relations.
"There are no excuses for standing in the way of progress," Davis said in a brief statement to reporters alongside Barnier at the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels.