European Union leaders agree on Brexit negotiation guidelines

April 29 (UPI) — The European Union agreed to guidelines for upcoming Brexit talks with the United Kingdom in Belgium on Saturday.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who led the discussion in Brussels, announced on Twitter that all 27 leaders had unanimously accepted the guidelines.

“Guidelines adopted unanimously. EU27 firm and fair political mandate for the Brexit talks is ready,” he wrote.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was not present at the meeting as the EU leaders took less than 15 minutes to agree on the guidelines issued March 31.

Brexit negotiations with the U.K. are expected to begin after the general election on June 8 and talks must be completed by March 29, 2019.

Despite May and the U.K. government’s desire to work on a trade deal alongside the Brexit negotiations the EU said it will not hold trade talks until the two sides reach agreements on the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K. and vice versa.

“This is the only possible way to move forward,” Tusk said. “We also need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides. This must be the number one priority for the EU and the U.K.”

Tusk also stressed the importance of agreeing on a deal to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as a settlement of the U.K.’s financial obligations as an EU member state.

French President Francois Hollande said “a price and a cost for the U.K.” is an inevitable reality.

“We must not be punitive, but at the same time it’s clear that Europe knows how to defend its interests, and that Britain the UK will have a less good position tomorrow outside the EU than today in the EU,” he said.

EU officials estimated the U.K. will face a bill of 60 billion euros ($65 billion) as part of the departure due to budget rules, but U.K. politicians said the government will not pay a bill of that amount.

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