The European Union on Thursday warned Britain to reach a divorce deal by the end of the month to guarantee moving to trade negotiations, as Brexit talks resumed in Brussels.
Fears are growing in Brussels that the chaotic political situation in London after Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a string of ministerial resignations will hamper the chances of reaching a deal on key issues, especially Britain’s contentious exit bill.
EU leaders had hoped to officially approve the next phase on future relations and a transition period at a summit in December, but officials are increasingly concerned that deadline could slip to February or March.
Britain also faces an economic slowdown, with the EU cutting its growth outlook for the country this year and warning that times would remain tough to 2019 as “uncertainty” over Brexit weighs heavily.
The EU says Britain must provide written guarantees of a pledge to honour the financial commitments that May made in a speech in Florence, Italy, in September.
To move on to trade talks, the EU is demanding sufficient progress on three key divorce issues, above all the bill Britain must pay to cover its budgetary commitments, a figure which senior European officials put at 60 billion euros ($70 billion).
They also want commitments on keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and on guaranteeing the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain.
But the British government looks increasingly distracted, with the resignation of its aid minister over meetings in Israel on Wednesday adding to the sense of chaos since May’s disastrous showing in elections earlier this year.