EU Raises Doubts Over Brexit Summit as May Holds Brussels Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May flies to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon with the European Union warning that a summit planned for Sunday may not go ahead if the final part of the Brexit deal isn’t completed by Thursday morning.

While the U.K. and EU struck a draft agreement on the terms of Britain’s divorce last week, there are still several issues connected to the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc that are unresolved, diplomats said. These include rights of European vessels to fish in British waters, the status of the U.K. territory of Gibraltar and future trade in goods.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not travel to Brussels on Sunday unless there is an agreement ready to sign, officials said. This is being interpreted as a warning to other European countries not to demand more additions to the text of the deal as much as a signal to the U.K., one official said.

May will hold talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who on Wednesday canceled a trip planned for the rest of the week to Spain.

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, several EU ambassadors raised doubts about the prospect of the deal being completed over the coming hours. Another diplomat said it was still most likely that the summit would go ahead. In EU talks deadlines are rarely set in stone, and Brexit has been a series of missed milestones.

Fighting over the Rock

Spain has warned that it won’t back the Brexit deal unless it makes clear that it doesn’t cover Gibraltar, to which the country makes a territorial claim. May says Gibraltar must be included.

The Gibraltar issue “looks quite intractable -- but nothing in the EU is ever truly intractable,” one diplomat said.

Aides to national leaders, known as sherpas, have said they want the finalized deal ready to look at on Thursday morning ahead of their meeting in Brussels 24 hours later, two diplomats said.

European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis told reporters in Brussels that although a summit was scheduled for Sunday it wouldn’t definitely go ahead.

“For that we will need to have agreed beforehand on the political declaration on the future relationship and we are not there yet,” he said. “Sherpas are due to meet on Friday. Of course they will need to see a final text before then and the Commission stands ready to consider the text and take any action at any time.”

The EU wants to avoid Sunday’s summit descending into a lengthy negotiating session, but one official with knowledge of the negotiations said that still can’t be ruled out if leaders decide to open discussions even with a finalized draft. Under the provisional schedule, leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries meet in Brussels at 9.30 a.m., with May joining them at 11 a.m. and a closing press conference at noon. Such timetables aren’t always kept.

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