British official hosts EU ambassadors to seek Brexit signals - sources

Thu Sep 22, 2016 3:14pm EDT
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A senior British official made clear during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries in London this week that his government wants a signal from the EU about what kind of Brexit deal it is willing to accept before triggering divorce talks, EU sources said.

The meeting, the first of its kind, was held on Tuesday so that Oliver Robbins, the top civil servant in the British Department for Exiting the European Union, could brief UK-based diplomats from EU states on the status of Brexit preparations.

It was held at the invitation of the Slovak presidency of the EU, according to one source.

The Slovaks declined to confirm or comment on the meeting. A British government source said: "We don't recognize what's clearly a muddled and contradictory account of the meeting."

That it took place at all is a sign the process of sounding each other out on the nature of a deal has begun, despite the EU's insistence that no negotiations can take place before Theresa May's government invokes Article 50 of the EU treaty.

Sources who were briefed on the exchange said Robbins gave no signals at the meeting about when May might do so.

One source said he had made clear that controlling migration would be the government's top priority and that retaining access to the single market in financial services was another goal.

But several other sources said it was not clear that the British government had settled on any clear priorities, and that London had been mainly interested in ascertaining what options might be possible in negotiations before triggering the process.

"The message was: We want to be able to look into your faces and get a sense of whether what we propose is reasonable. We want to avoid surprises," one of the sources told Reuters.   Continued...

A Union flag flies next to the flag of the European Union in Westminster, London, Britain June 24, 2016.    REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo