Brussels (AFP) - EU leaders will next week order internal preparations for Brexit trade talks, in a ray of hope for Britain after its hopes of launching full negotiations on future ties at a summit next week were crushed.
The 27 leaders without Britain will declare that there is not "sufficient progress" on divorce issues such as the exit bill to formally move onto the next phase, including a post-Brexit trade deal, according to a draft statement obtained by AFP Thursday.
They will "reassess the state of progress" at their next summit in December, and if the verdict is positive they will issue their guidelines for trade talks plus a transitional period suggested by British Prime Minister Theresa May, the draft says.
But in an olive branch to Britain, which wants to start trade talks now, the leaders add that "in order to be fully ready for such a scenario, the European Council invites (ministers) together with the Union negotiator to start internal preparatory discussion."
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier Thursday after a fifth round of talks with British negotiator David Davis that there was a "disturbing" deadlock on the exit bill the EU says Britain must pay.
The leaders' statement was also critical on the issue of money, saying that "while the UK has stated that it will honour its financial obligations taken during its membership, this has not yet been translated into a firm and concrete commitment from the UK to settle all of these obligations."
But it says they "welcome the progress" on the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain, and another million living on the continent.
It also says there is "some progress" on Northern Ireland, where the goals are to prevent a so-called "hard border" with Ireland, and to preserve the Good Friday peace process.