EU chief says Brexit talks are toughest test, urges unity

(AP) — European Union chief Donald Tusk warned Tuesday that talks on Britain’s departure from the EU remain the bloc’s toughest test, saying that “it is, in fact, up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.”

The European Council president renewed calls for unity among the U.K.’s 27 partners. Brexit “is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it, the negotiations will end in our defeat,” Tusk said.

Debriefing EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France on last week’s EU summit, Tusk said that “the EU will be able to rise to every scenario as long as we are not divided.”

Britain is set to leave the EU in March 2019, but the Brexit talks are progressing very slowly, held up by differences over the size of the departure bill, the rights of citizens directly hit by Brexit and the status of the Ireland-Northern-Ireland border.

EU leaders say those issues must be addressed before the negotiations can be broadened to future relations and trade. British Prime Minister Theresa May wants the issues to be discussed at the same time.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker took a swipe at people seeking to undermine the talks, following a leaked report of his Brexit dinner with May last week.

“The commission is not negotiating in a hostile mood. We want a deal. Those who don’t want a deal — the ‘no dealers’ — they have no friends in the commission. We want a fair deal with Britain and we will have a fair deal with Britain,” Juncker said.

“A ‘no deal’ is not our working assumption,” he added.

A report in the German Sunday newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung claimed that May was “begging for help” from her EU partners during the Brussels dinner.

May said Monday that she has “a degree of confidence” that Brexit talks will move to their decisive second phase by December.

May has said Britain will pay what it owes but the amount Britain has suggested, around 20 billion euros ($24 billion), falls far short of the EU estimate of 60 billion euros ($70 billion or more).

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