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European leaders set out tough Brexit guidelines

By Conal Urquhart in London | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-04-30 00:00

The European Council of 27 nations has unanimously agreed its guidelines for negotiating the terms of the UK's departure from the European Union.

The UK and EU negotiators will have to make significant progress on safeguarding the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, the amount of money the UK must pay the EU and ensuring that no "hard border" emerges between Ireland and Northern Ireland before moving onto trade discussions.

The 27 nations agreed the guidelines at a special summit in Brussels on Saturday. After the event, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, praised the outstanding unity of the 27 nations. "The guidelines were adopted immediately which bodes well for the negotiations," he said.

Tusk highlighted the importance of safeguarding the rights of the 4.5 million EU nationals who will be directly affected by Brexit. He said that once the UK offered serious guarantees of the rights of EU nationals in the UK, the matter could be dealt with quickly.

The establishment of the guidelines means that the UK will not get its wish for parallel negotiations in which legacy issues are dealt with at the same times as future relations. The guidelines are clear that major progress will need to be made before future relations are discussed.

The guidelines also lay out the possibility of a transition period in which the UK will continue to have the rights and responsibilities of an EU member without having any representation. The transition period would be necessary if there is not full agreement on Brexit by March 2019.

The summit exposed a rift between the discourse in Brussels and in the UK. Many British leaders have suggested that they can get very favourable conditions for Brexit without considering that there will be a second party to the negotiations--the EU--with its own strong views.

As French President Francois Hollande arrived at the summit, he told reporters: "There will inevitably be a price and a cost for Britain. It's the choice they have made.

"We must not be punitive, but at the same time it's clear that Europe knows how to defend its interests, and that Britain will have a less good position outside the EU than in the EU."

Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, told reporters that once trust had been established between the EU and UK on the legacy issues of citizen rights, financial settlement and Ireland, "then we have to swiftly start talking about the future relationships trade and also politics."

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to respond to the EU's negotiation guidelines but they could yet prove to be major factor in the UK general election campaign, with Britons going to the polls on June 8.

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