Theresa May is set to meet key EU figures for talks on Brexit which could determine whether the UK is able to move on to negotiations on trade.BBC Europe editor Katya Adler says deals were reached this weekend on the UK “divorce bill” and citizens’ rights.But Irish ministers said there was no agreement yet on the outstanding issue of the border with Northern Ireland.No 10 said “plenty of discussions” lay ahead as it seeks a breakthrough at a summit of EU leaders in ten days’ time.Mrs May will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, who has set a deadline for her to come forward with an improved offer on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.The UK is hoping to start talks about a free trade agreement but the EU says it will only recommend this can take place when it deems “sufficient progress” has been made on the “divorce” bill, expat citizens and the Northern Ireland border.The UK voted for Brexit last year and is due to leave in March 2019, but negotiations between the EU and the UK have not yet reached a breakthrough.Mrs May will be accompanied by the Brexit Secretary David Davis for the discussions with Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk.Downing Street has described the meeting as an “important staging post” on the route to the “crucial” summit with the other 27 leaders in the middle of the month when it hopes trade talks can begin. On the “divorce bill”, the UK is understood to have recently increased its offer, which could be worth up to 50bn euros (£44bn). The two sides are also understood to have reached agreement on what rules cover EU citizens in the UK – and UK citizens in the EU – after Brexit.’Concrete commitment’This has focused a lot of attention on the Ireland question in recent days, with the Irish government seeking more information on the “frictionless border” the UK wants to establish so customs checks are not needed.Mr Tusk has stated Dublin must be satisfied there will be no return to a “hard border” with Northern Ireland, before the EU moves on to the next stage of negotiations.Ahead of a meeting of the Irish cabinet, Ireland’s Europe minister Helen McEntee said while there had been progress she did not believe the two sides were yet close to a resolution.”We are certainly not looking to veto anything,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “Ireland wants to move on to phase two but it would be absolutely impossible to allow that when we don’t have an absolutely concrete commitment there won’t be a hard border.”
Analysis: ‘Personal assurances sought’
Katya Adler, BBC Europe editorBrussels is in an upbeat mood. There’s talk of movement, traction and an absence of negativity in last-minute negotiations before the prime minister’s visit. This weekend diplomats finalised agreements on citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. Ireland remains the outstanding issue. Dublin wants written assurances from Downing Street that the Good Friday agreement will be protected and that there will be no introduction of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. What’s at stake here is not a final deal but for the EU to decide if enough progress has been made for Brexit talks to widen to include negotiations on the future shape of EU-UK relations. Theresa May’s lunch with the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker is key. She will be expected to give personal assurances and iron out any outstanding disagreements. If all goes smoothly, a joint UK-EU report will then be published locking in all understandings to date. Both sides describe themselves as cautiously optimistic but some in the UK are likely to feel the government has bowed too deeply to EU demands.Read more from Katya
Mrs May’s meeting comes as the EU withdrawal bill returns to the Commons for a fourth day of debate, with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning there will be no Brexit at all unless Mrs May is supported.His comments came after a series of prominent Conservatives including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and former chancellor Lord Lawson signed a letter calling on Mrs May to refuse to settle the UK’s “divorce bill” unless Brussels agrees to a series of demands.These included ending the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction the moment the UK leaves in March 2019.
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The prime minister has promised the ECJ’s writ in the UK will end but she has suggested it might continue for an unspecified period during an “implementation” phase after the UK leaves. Tory MP and pro-Brexit campaigner Owen Paterson claimed he was “right behind” the prime minister, despite signing the letter.He told BBC Breakfast: “It is very important that the European Union understands that many of us are getting fed up with the fact that they are treating [Mrs May], in some ways, pretty rudely and churlishly and not getting on to the absolute key negotiation, which is the economic relationship we have with the European Union once we leave.”The simple slogan of the referendum was we want to take back control. Once we have taken back control we can really enjoy the advantages.”