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Brexit talks stutter, but EU leaders might give May break

From Reuters - October 9, 2017

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union negotiators see no big breakthrough in a new round of Brexit talks from Monday nor when Theresa May attends a summit next week, yet leaders could offer the beleaguered British prime minister a hand, EU officials believe.

Underlining low expectations, negotiations starting late on Monday in Brussels have a thin schedule; unlike four previous rounds, British Brexit Secretary David Davis is not expected at the start but only at a final news conference with EU negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday. Wednesday is blank on the timetable.

That bodes ill for the miracles on key divorce issues that Barniers boss says are needed for Mays 27 fellow EU leaders to agree to open the talks she wants on a post-Brexit free trade pact when they all meet in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.

The prime minister revived an increasingly sour dialogue two weeks ago by offering concessions in a speech in Florence. But talks that followed left big gaps on three core issues on which the EU demands significant progress before Barnier can so much as mention what happens after Britain leaves in 18 months time.

Yet such is the opposition to compromise that May faces within her own party that many EU diplomats think leaders could give her some hope at the summit to help her face down calls for Britain to simply walk out without a deal - an eventuality that the Europeans are nonetheless preparing for.

My guess is the leaders will try to find some positive elements, one senior diplomat told Reuters, saying May could be offered hope of a landing zone for accords to let the next scheduled summit, in mid-December, approve trade talks.

This week could see further movement on agreeing rights for expatriate citizens, where the role of EU judges is in dispute.But few see much movement on the Irish land border or on by far the toughest issue: how much Britain pays on leaving.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR MAY

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