The European Union has offered the United Kingdom to start talks on a free trade agreement already this year but made it clear that London must first agree to EU demands on the terms of its withdrawal from the bloc. EU requirements include giving residence rights to about 3 million EU citizens living in the UK as well as paying billions of euros. The proposed negotiating objectives also set conditions for a transition period, stressing that the UK must accept EU rules after any partial withdrawal and emphasized that the EU would not allow Britain to scrap tax, environmental and labor laws if it is interested in a free trade pact.
EU President Donald Tusk also emphasized that “once, and only once” Brussels has achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal, can the framework for a future partnership be discussed. “Starting parallel talks on all issues at the same time, as suggested by some in the UK, will not happen,” Mr. Tusk said and added that the EU would be able to asses as early as this autumn that Britain had made “sufficient progress” on the Brexit terms in order to open talks on the nature of the future partnership including trade.
The EU estimates that the UK may owe the bloc about 60 billion euros on departure, although it admitted that the actual figure cannot be calculated until the country actually leaves. Moreover, Brussels has offered Spain a veto right over the future relationship between Gibraltar and the EU following the UK’s withdrawal – a move that could help navigate and soothe the Brexit talks but at the same time dash Gibraltar’s hopes for a special status. Gibraltar is believed to be among the top three issues on the Brexit talks agenda alongside trade and the future rights of EU citizens already living in the UK.