LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will on Wednesday hold talks with EU Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier, ahead of a summit to set the bloc’s Brexit “red lines”.
In the first such meeting between the three key players, they will discuss the upcoming negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union over dinner at May’s Downing Street residence.
Brussels has hardened its position in recent days, making new demands over financial services, immigration and the bills Britain must settle before ending its 44-year-old membership of the bloc.
The leaders of the other 27 EU nations will meet on April 29 to formally approve the guidelines for Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator for Brexit, although the talks will not begin until June.
At Downing Street, both sides are likely to “reiterate their positions going into the Brexit talks”, Nina Schick, associate director at advisory firm Hanbury Strategy, told AFP.
“I wouldn’t expect too much substance from the meeting,” she added.
It is the first meeting between May and Juncker since the British leader triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty on March 29, launching the two-year divorce proceedings.
Juncker follows in the footsteps of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who met May in London on April 20, and European Council chief Donald Tusk, who visited Downing Street on April 6.
May’s spokesman said the visits show that Britain “will be approaching the negotiations in a constructive manner and with great goodwill”.
But new draft negotiating guidelines, agreed on Monday by Barnier and European diplomats and seen by AFP, point to months of difficult talks ahead.
They suggest the other 27 EU leaders will seek to hold Britain liable for the bloc’s costs for at least a year after it leaves in 2019 — longer than was previously proposed.
They insist that Britain’s dominant finance industry will not necessarily be tied to any future trade deal with the EU and that it must also stick to the bloc’s rules if it wants easy access to EU markets.
Britain will also be required to give EU citizens permanent residency after living there for five years, in a challenge for the British government, which has vowed to limit immigration.
For Schick, who works with the Open Europe initiative, the tougher guidelines “are not really a surprise”.
“I would argue that (in Britain) there is a sense of at best optimism, at worst just not understanding where the EU side is coming from,” she said.
May, who took office in July after a shock referendum vote for Brexit, surprised Britain last week by calling a snap general election for June 8 to give her a mandate for the EU negotiations.
She has committed to pulling Britain out of Europe’s single market to end free movement of EU citizens into Britain, but says she wants to form a new partnership with the bloc.
Opinion polls put the Conservative party leader on course to significantly increase her slim majority of 17 in the 650-seat House of Commons.