EC president dashes hopes of opening Brexit trade talks at summit
THE president of the European Council has all but ruled out green-lighting talks on Britain's future trade relationship with the EU at a crunch Brussels summit next week.
Despite Theresa May's call for the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to show "flexibility" at the October 19-20 gathering, Donald Tusk made clear that he does not expect the council to agree until December at the earliest that sufficient progress has been made on the divorce deal to allow trade negotiations to begin.
And he even held out the prospect that agreement may not be reached by the end of the year, something which is likely to concern the Prime Minister following warnings that City companies want clarity by that point if they are not to start moving staff and functions out of the UK.
Mr Tusk also said that Brussels was doing no work to prepare for the possibility of Britain crashing out of the EU without a trade deal.
On Monday, the British government released policy papers on trade and customs which included an outline of how the issues would be handled if talks in Brussels break down without a deal.
These white papers, which set out plans for the UK to operate a "stand-alone" customs system from day one if May 29 2019 arrives without agreement, were seen as an effort to put pressure on the remaining EU states to speed up progress.
But in a speech to the European Committee of the Regions, Mr Tusk said: "We hear from London that the UK government is preparing for a 'no deal' scenario.
"I would like to say very clearly that the EU is not working on such a scenario. We are negotiating in good faith, and we still hope that the so-called 'sufficient progress' will be possible by December."
London and Brussels remained at loggerheads over which side needs to offer further concessions to break the current deadlock.
The Prime Minister declared that the ball was in the EU's court.
But asked after a lunch in Brussels with Brexit Secretary David Davis whether that was the case, Mr Barnier replied: "Brexit is not a game. Don't forget it."
Mr Davis was in the Belgian capital for the second day of the fifth round of formal talks on Britain's EU withdrawal yesterday, having missed the opening day on Monday.
Mr Barnier characterised their discussions over lunch as "constructive".
Meanwhile, More than 120 MPs have called on Brexit Secretary David Davis to "come clean" and publish the Government's assessments of the impact of leaving the European Union on the economy.
The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party MPs accused the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) of keeping "not only Parliament but the public in the dark".
They criticised DExEU's refusal to publish the analysis of more than 50 economic sectors, despite written parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests, saying MPs and the public need to see it to enable "full and frank" debate on Brexit.