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Brexit: Angela Merkel suggests December for UK/EU trade talks

British prime minister Theresa May with with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron yesterday during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels

GERMAN chancellor Angela Merkel suggested Brexit negotiations may move towards UK/EU trade talks in December as EU leaders gathered yesterday for a summit in Brussels.

Mrs Merkel said there were "encouraging" signs, but that progress so far was "not sufficient" to open discussions on a future trading relationship.

She told reporters that enough progress had been made to encourage her to think it will be possible to "take the work forward and then reach the start of the second phase in December".

Britain had already given up hope of receiving a green light for trade talks at the summit after chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier last week said insufficient progress had been made to move to the second phase, dealing with trade.

Theresa May made clear she was no longer expecting a breakthrough this week, characterising the summit as an opportunity to "take stock" of progress so far.

But the British prime minister said she would be setting out "ambitious plans" for further negotiations in the weeks ahead.

Mrs May said she wanted to inject a new "urgency" into discussions on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons on the continent.

European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated the 27 EU leaders may agree today to begin internal scoping discussions on their position on a possible trade deal.

This would allow formal negotiations with the UK to begin around Christmas if further progress is made on the divorce issues of citizens' rights, the Irish border and Britain's financial settlement.

But he warned on Wednesday that a move to formal trade negotiations in December would require "more concrete proposals from the British side".

The comments reflect pressure from Brussels for further UK concessions on a so-called "divorce bill" which could reach 60 billion euros (£53 billion).

Arriving in Brussels at the start of the two-day summit, Mrs May said: "This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.

"That means of course continued co-operation, co-operation which must be at the heart of the strong future partnership that we want to build together.

"Of course we will also be looking at the concrete progress that has been made in our exit negotiations and setting out ambitious plans for the weeks ahead.

"I particularly want to see an urgency in reaching an agreement on citizens' rights."

Before travelling to the Belgian capital, Mrs May issued a message to the estimated three million EU citizens in the UK, telling them that she wants them to be able to stay after Brexit and that a deal on their rights is "in touching distance".

Before formal talks got under way in Brussels, Mrs May was seen deep in conversation with Mrs Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.

Other EU leaders indicated that they were hopeful for a breakthrough at the December 14-15 summit.

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