UK leader Theresa May heads to Brussels for crucial Brexit talks with EU chief

  • The future relationship is the focus at the moment in Brussels, while Westminster is still being bogged down by the country's exit agreement.
  • Reporters in the Belgian capital are waiting for the publication of a draft plan that will be fundamental once the U.K. leaves the EU in March of next year.
  • Some EU countries have raised concerns regarding fishing and unfair advantages to U.K. businesses.
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) is welcomed by European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at European Commission in Brussels on December 8, 2017.
Emmanuel Dunand | AFP | Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) is welcomed by European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at European Commission in Brussels on December 8, 2017.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is set to meet the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday afternoon, hoping to strike a rough agreement on the future links between the U.K. and the EU.

The future relationship is the focus at the moment in Brussels, while Westminster is still being bogged down by the country's exit agreement.

Reporters in the Belgian capital are waiting for the publication of a draft plan that will be fundamental once the U.K. leaves the EU in March of next year. After March 29, the official Brexit date, the U.K. and the European Union will negotiate their future ties including new trading arrangements. However, the aim is to agree on the basis for those talks before a special Brexit summit this Sunday.

Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson for the European Commission, said Tuesday that the aim of Wednesday's meeting is to prepare for Sunday's summit, when the other 27 EU leaders and May are due to endorse the exit agreement as well as the so-called political declaration on the future relationship. However, the European institutions have yet to confirm when that important political text will be published on Tuesday.

Some EU countries have raised concerns regarding fishing and unfair advantages to U.K. businesses. Spain is also concerned about the future status of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory that Madrid maintains a claim on. The future relationship document is likely to address all of these concerns. However, the 585-page document stating how the U.K. will leave the EU in March is unlikely to be altered to accommodate those concerns. Both documents will be discussed and signed off by European leaders on Sunday.

No-deal preparations

If all goes well, the exit deal will then move to the EU and U.K. Parliaments for approval. Given that there is no clarity at this stage whether U.K. lawmakers will give their green light on the document, the other EU nations are still working on plans for a no-deal eventuality.

If the U.K. does not approve the deal, it will basically send a signal that the country will break away from the rest of the EU in March without a deal, bringing uncertainty and higher costs for businesses.

Augusto Santos Silva, the foreign affairs minister of Portugal, told CNBC Monday that the EU is working on those no-deal plans on a weekly basis and is covering all sectors. He also said that the EU needs to have clarity "by the end of the year" to know whether or not those plans will have to be triggered.

The rest of the EU members have also to come to an agreement on the transition period. This temporary phase is set to last until the end of 2020, but it could be extended by July of that year if the U.K. and the EU do not have a deal on new trade arrangements.

"The main point is that if we have to extend the transition period we shall do it one time (only), a one-off decision and not for a very long period of time," Santos Silva told CNBC.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, would reportedly be happy to extend the transition until 2022 — something which Santos Silva agrees with.