EU leaders have hardened their conditions on a goodwill Brexit gesture to Prime Minister Theresa May at a summit this week, according to a new draft of their statement on Monday.
Germany and France have led calls for a tougher stance on whether to offer May a concession on her call to open talks about a trade deal and a post-Brexit transitional arrangement.
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday are set to say that they will postpone until at least December a decision on whether break-up negotiations have made enough progress to move onto the next phase.
The new draft circulated by EU President Donald Tusk to the 27 national governments except Britain says the leaders will nevertheless agree to start internal preparations for negotiations on trade and a transition period.
But the new version, obtained by AFP, adds to last week’s draft a mention of the role of the European Court of Justice in protecting the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, a condition that London has so far opposed.
It also drops any mention of being “fully ready” to move onto trade talks in December, and adds a further stipulation that there must be progress on all three divorce areas — citizens rights, Britain’s exit bill and Northern Ireland.
EU ministers will consider the changes on Tuesday before the EU 27 are set to have a final discussion on Friday.
The new draft emerged shortly before May was due in Brussels to have dinner with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in a bid to break the deadlock in talks.
May also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar before the dinner as she tries to make headway in the negotiations.
Merkel and Macron had both appeared to back the gesture of preparatory talks, even if Paris and Berlin were pushing for tougher language, EU sources said.
Under the scenario in the EU statement, the bloc would, if there is sufficient progress in December, adopt guidelines for Barnier to follow while launching the next phase.
The two-year transition period suggested by May in a speech in Florence last month is likely to be the easiest issue to work on, given that it mostly involves keeping the current form of EU-UK relations intact.
“We are relatively close when it comes to the transition,” a European source said on condition of anonymity.