EU sets out 'phased' Brexit strategy
The EU has outlined its strategy for Brexit negotiations, suggesting talks on a trade deal could begin once "sufficient progress" is made on a separation settlement with the UK.
The draft guidelines, issued by European Council President Donald Tusk, argue for a "phased approach" in talks.
The draft will be sent to the 27 member states for approval. They will set the tone for two years of negotiations.
Britain formally triggered the Brexit process on Wednesday.
It had called for simultaneous talks on exit terms and future trade ties.
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The guidelines call for a "phased approach giving priority to an orderly withdrawal".
The draft suggests starting with discussions on the separation arrangement. They could then move on to talks about a future trade relationship between the EU and the UK.
It says the EU's overall objective "will be to preserve its interests, those of its member states, its citizens and its businesses".
'No bargaining chip'
UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the Brexit process by sending the Article 50 notification letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Malta on Friday, Mr Tusk said that while the talks would be "difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational", he hoped all sides would approach them positively.
"The EU 27 does not, and will not pursue a punitive approach – Brexit in itself is already punitive enough," he said.
He told reporters that the EU shared the UK's desire for a close partnership. "Strong ties reaching beyond the economy, and including security co-operation remain in our common interest," he said.
"No-one is interested in using security as a bargaining chip," Mr Tusk added.
Mrs May's letter had been interpreted by some as threatening to withdraw co-operation with the EU on security matters.
Mr Tusk also raised the issue of the UK financial bills with the EU, estimated to be as much as €60bn (£51bn; $64bn).
In a sign of the bloc's determination to secure a "divorce bill" from Britain, he said: "We will need to make sure that the UK honours all financial commitments and liabilities it has taken as a member state."
He also said the EU would seek "flexible and creative solutions" to avoid the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Tusk is to meet Mrs May in London ahead of an EU summit on Brexit, which will not include her, on 29 April.