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‘Excellent’ or distinctly ‘average’: UK and EU at odds over Brexit progress

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
EU and UK flags flying during an anti-Brexit protest in London (Reuters)

The EU has poured cold water on claims by a British minister that “excellent” progress is being made in Brexit negotiations.

Lord Callanan gave the upbeat assessment of divorce proceedings this morning as he arrived in Luxembourg for a meeting of EU ministers which will take the pulse of Brexit proceedings.

Buoyed by royal assent for the Withdrawal Bill, the Conservative peer told reporters: “We’re making excellent progress on all fronts.”

But the European Commission’s chief spokesman gave a very different assessment this afternoon.

Asked whether talks had so far been excellent, poor or average, Margaritis Schinas replied: “Average. With a potential of improvement.”

Their comments underline how far apart the UK and EU are ahead of Thursday’s European Council summit, which be attended by Theresa May.

A Yahoo analysis of the draft Withdrawal Agreement revealed just 5% of Brexit issues have been resolved over the last three months.

Just four months remain before the October deadline for a Brexit deal to reach agreement on outstanding issues, which represent 22% of the document.

The most difficult of the them is how to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Significant progress on a ‘backstop solution’ was supposed to have been made by this week’s summit.

Instead, leaders of the EU 27 are set to “express concern” at the lack of progress on the issue.

Newly published draft conclusions for the summit also call for the UK to bring forward “realistic and workable proposals” for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister’s current ‘red lines’ would see the UK leave the EU’s single market and customs union, leaving a free trade agreement as the only option on the table.

However, the government will publish a Brexit white paper at the beginning of next month which could include a customs union for goods.

The EU will “be prepared to reconsider its offer” if “the UK positions evolve,” the draft conclusions state in a clear enticement to May to weaken her ‘red lines.’

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will update EU ministers on Brexit talks in Luxembourg this evening before giving a press conference.