UK's May Seeks to Broaden Brexit Talks

UK's May Seeks to Broaden Brexit Talks

BRUSSELS (AP) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May stepped up her lobbying efforts Friday to broaden Brexit negotiations with the European Union to include future relations and trade, as the talks remained bogged down on the divorce bill and other preliminary issues.

May said she would hold a number of meetings in Brussels, including with EU Council President Donald Tusk, about progress in the talks, which must be completed well before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

She will also meet the leaders of Belgium, Denmark and Lithuania.

May sidestepped questions about how much Britain would be willing to pay to settle its EU financial accounts, saying her talks will look "ahead to the future deep and special partnership that I want with the European Union."

Britain has suggested that it would be willing to pay around 20 billion euros ($billion) to settle the divorce bill, while the Europeans are seeking anywhere from 60-100 billion euros ($billion) to clear London's tab.

May said Britain and the EU "must step forward together."

But EU leaders are set to decide in three weeks if the negotiations have made "sufficient progress" — on the divorce bill, the status of Irish borders and the rights of citizens hit by Brexit — for the talks to be expanded. Currently, it seems unlikely that will happen.

"There is still some work to do to bring us closer on certain points," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

Asked by British reporters whether their country should pay more, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said: "Yes of course you should, it's an easy answer."

The big sticking point for Ireland is to ensure that no barriers to trade are set up after Brexit between it and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., especially given the sectarian tensions that have long simmered in the region.

"We are not going to allow a border to remerge on the island of Ireland, and we have a shared responsibility with Britain to make sure that doesn't happen," said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

"If progress isn't made in terms of more clarity, and more credibility in terms of how these issues can be resolved in a way that prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland, well then we cannot move on to phase 2," he said.

Coveney said that Ireland has the firm backing of its 26 EU partners.

"We have seen no suggestion that other countries are moving away from that position of solidarity, absolutely not," he added.

Only European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered a hint of optimism, saying of the Brexit negotiations: "they are making progress."