Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has spoken in favour of a special trade deal between Europe and the UK despite EU officials insisting a deal more favourable than other non-EU countries was out of the question.
France and Germany demand the UK must only be allowed an inflexible ‘off the shelf’ deal, such as the types signed with Norway or Canada.
But, Mr Gentoloni said: “There can be models of reference based on deals the EU has with third countries but these were all done building off a white sheet.
“Here we are doing the opposite, removing things from a 40-year-old structure of extraordinary relationships”.
Mr Gentoloni’s intervention is a huge boost for Theresa May
Italy is a major G7 economy and Mr Gentoloni’s intervention is a huge boost for Theresa May who has called for special arrangement.
The comments come as EU leaders meet today to formally agree ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the UK’s divorce terms in order to move onto trade negotiations.
But, the other 27 bosses have insisted trade talks won’t come before March 2018.
Mrs May will urge EU leaders to strike a two-year transition deal to reassure business leaders.
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The PM will also urge them to remember the divorce agreement struck last week in which there was “give and take” on both sides, a senior British official said.
Last week the UK, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the EU finally came to an agreement on three key Brexit issues after weeks of wrangling.
The status of EU citizens in Britain post-Brexit, the divorce bill and the future of the Irish border were all discussed at length before an agreement was finally made.
But this week fears in Brussels have grown the UK could already be attempting to backtrack on some issues, which even the EU admitted was more of a “gentleman’s agreement” than a legally-binding contract.
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Mr Barnier said there could be no backtracking on the issues if the key stage of talks, regarding trade, were to be successful.
And Mr Barnier said there is “no possibility” that Britain and the European Union can conclude a free trade agreement by the time Britain leaves in March 2019.
Asked about suggestions in London that a trade deal could be ready for signature shortly after Britain is no longer an EU member, Mr Barnier reiterated the EU’s official line only a “political declaration” outlining future trading relations would be ready at the time of Britain’s withdrawal.
He told reporters after he had briefed EU ministers ahead of a leaders’ summit on Friday that negotiating a free trade pact would take longer.
Mr Barnier said there could be no backtracking
European Council President Donald Tusk said a successful Brexit treaty will be a “furious race against time”.
Mr Tusk made the comments in a letter to the members of the European Council before their meeting at the end of this week.
He said: “The EU and UK negotiators have prepared a joint report on what has been agreed so far, and I think we have a satisfactory result on most issues.
Donald Tusk said a successful Brexit treaty will be a race against time
“For that reason, and based on the recommendation by our chief negotiator, I have tabled guidelines which will signal, if you agree, that we are ready to move to the second phase, which will expand discussions to cover transition and the framework for the future relationship.
“The conclusion of the first phase of negotiations is moderate progress, since we only have ten months left to determine the transition period and our future relations with the UK.
“This will be a furious race against time, where again our unity will be key. And the experience so far has shown that unity is a sine qua non of an orderly Brexit.”