EU could delay early free trade talks with UK because of slow Brexit progress

Brexit negotiations: Four biggest issuesNewsweek

Hopes of kicking off post-Brexit free trade talks between the UK and the EU may have been dashed because of the slow progress between Brussels and Britain in the two-year-long divorce negotiations, the prime minister of Slovenia warned on Monday 21 August.

"I think that the process will definitely take more time than we expected at the start of the negotiations," Mirco Cerar told The Guardian.

"There are so many difficult topics on the table, difficult issues there, that one cannot expect all those issues will be solved according to the schedule made in the first place.

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"What is important now is that the three basic issues are solved in reasonable time. Then there will optimism on realistic grounds. I know this issue of finance is a tricky one. But it must also be solved, along with the rights of people."

The comments come ahead of the EU Council's meeting in October, when the European leaders will decide whether enough progress has been made in the Brexit talks for negotiations around a potential free trade arrangement between the UK and the EU can begin.

The two sides have prioritised talks around the future of the more than three million EU nationals in the UK and the more than one million Britons on the continent.

Brussels is also keen to settle the dispute around a so-called 'Brexit bill', which could see the UK paying up to €100bn (£91.5bn) to leave the economic bloc.

Downing Street has played down Cerar's comments, with a Number 10 spokeswoman telling reporters the government is confident that it will have made "sufficient progress" by the October deadline.

Prime Minister Theresa May believes the UK and Brussels both need to demonstrate a "dynamic and flexible approach" to each round of talks, Reuters reported.

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