Britain, EU play game of chicken in Brexit countdown

Reuters LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Britain said on Monday it could not agree on a divorce deal with the European Union without a framework pact on future relations, throwing down the gauntlet to the bloc which also says it cannot move on talks until London does.

Both sides are eyeing significant progress at an Oct. 17-18 summit in Brussels but in different sequences — Prime Minister Theresa May wants to see the EU’s proposal for post-Brexit ties while the EU seeks a new offering from her on the Irish border.

What is up in the air is timing — who plays their hand first, and after several days of positive noises about movement at the next summit, both sides are now tempering expectations.

May’s spokesman repeated Britain’s line on Monday that Brussels should budge first and that “there can be no withdrawal agreement without a precise future framework.”

“There’s a difference between people talking optimistically about a deal, and a deal including both the withdrawal agreement and the future framework, actually being agreed,” he said.

The 27 remaining members of the EU might delay work on fleshing out their proposal for strong trade ties after Brexit and will instead focus on their own preparations this week, including contingencies for a “no-deal” scenario — given the profound divisions within May’s camp over the terms of Brexit.

Negotiations on ending four decades of Britain’s membership in the EU have entered their final stage, more than two years after Britons voted narrowly for Brexit in a referendum.

Top EU officials sounded upbeat last week about chances for a withdrawal deal as soon as next week’s summit.

But London has yet to present in writing a new proposal for the biggest hurdle in talks now — how to avoid extensive, post-Brexit checks along the 500 kilometers of border between EU member state Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland province that will become the only EU-U.K. land frontier.

EU officials and diplomats say the bloc will not put forward its proposal for future trade before reaching an agreement with Britain on an emergency fix that would keep the Irish border open — preserving a key aspect of a 1998 peace treaty that ended decades of sectarian bloodshed — regardless of how Brexit goes.Speech

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