Germany and Italy back Brussels hardliners on Brexit

Berlin and Rome are backing the European Commission’s plan to rule out starting trade talks with Britain until the UK gives assurances on a multibillion-euro Brexit bill and citizens’ rights.

German and Italian officials say they support Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, in seeking progress on divorce terms as an opening step. France is uncompromising on the estimated €60bn bill, while Spain is more wary of attempts to “punish” Britain.

Such stances are preliminary, since EU member states have still to take a formal position.

But the stance of Berlin and Rome is a blow to British ministers, who are banking on Germany taking a softer approach and overruling Commission hardliners. David Davis, Brexit minister, is adamant that trade talks will start in parallel with discussions on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

The emphasis Brussels and member states now place on the exit bill also contrasts sharply with EU leaders’ suggestions last summer that they were open to the idea of parallel trade talks in discussions with Theresa May, prime minister. Since then Mrs May has increasingly favoured a hard Brexit, with no UK…

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