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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (right) greets British Prime Minister Theresa May on arrival at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday.  --Photo AP

British PM hails Brexit progress, but still no breakthrough

LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday that she has made fresh progress in Brexit talks at a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, as negotiators try to pin down an agreement that EU leaders can rubber-stamp this weekend.
The UK and the European Union agreed last week on a 585-page document sealing the terms of Britain’s departure, but are still working to nail down a separate political declaration on their future relations after Brexit on March 29.
“Further progress has been made,” May said in a brief statement after her meeting in Brussels with Juncker, but she added that “there are some further issues that need resolution.”
May said the two sides have “given sufficient direction to our negotiators. I hope to be able to resolve the remaining issues, and that work will start immediately.”
The meeting with Juncker lasted just over 90 minutes. May said she will return to Brussels on Saturday for more talks, including with the Commission President, “to discuss how we can bring to a conclusion this process and bring it to a conclusion in the interests for all our people.”
An EU summit is planned for Sunday, but May shed no light on whether it will still go ahead. As wrangling continued over issues including Gibraltar and fishing rights, European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that the text on future relations was “not there yet.” He said diplomats would meet Friday to prepare Sunday’s summit, and “they will need to see a final text before then.”
“The Commission stands ready to consider the text and take any action at any time,” he said. At home, May is under intense pressure from pro-Brexit and pro-EU British lawmakers, with large numbers on both sides of the debate opposing the divorce deal. Brexiteers think it will leave the UK tied too closely to EU rules, while pro-Europeans say it will erect new barriers between Britain and the bloc — its neighbour and biggest trading partner.
May fended off a barrage of criticism from both opposition and government legislators Wednesday during her weekly Commons question-and-answer session dominated by Brexit.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the agreement “half-baked” — and said his party could negotiate a better one — while Conservative Andrew Rosindell urged May to ditch the plan and remove “the tentacles of the EU over our cherished island nation.”
May replied that “we want to ensure we continue to have a close trading relationship with the European Union” after Brexit.
She said the alternative to the agreement was either “more uncertainty, more division or it could risk no Brexit at all.”
Madrid has raised objections to wording in the agreement about Gibraltar, the tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula that was ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain.

(Latest Update November 23, 2018)

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