BRUSSELS: European governments started to thrash out a plan for close ties with post-Brexit Britain on Monday in the last week before they gather to sign their divorce papers.
Ministers from the other 27 EU members met in Brussels at the start of what Prime Minister Theresa May calls "an intense week of negotiations" ahead of Sunday's summit"A painful week in European politics is starting," Austrian minister for Europe Gernot Blumel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters, report agencies.
"We have the divorce papers on the table. 45 years of difficult marriage are coming to an end."
The British leader has said she will be in the city herself this week to see the president of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for last-ditch talks.
Neither May nor European leaders are keen to reopen the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement that was grudgingly approved by the British cabinet last week.
But both sides are scrambling to finalise a parallel political declaration that will set out a road-map for post-Brexit negotiations on future EU-UK ties.
"Now that there is a concept withdrawal agreement we think that it is satisfying, it's workable, and we will invest our energy now in the political agreement," Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said.London wants to lay out in as much detail as possible a route to a free trade agreement, in part to shore up support in a British parliament that may yet reject the deal.
Brussels, meanwhile, insists Britain cannot have the same privileged access to the single market as it did as a member state after Brexit on March 29 next year.
European negotiators plan to publish their version of the statement on future relations on Tuesday.
On Sunday, according to diplomatic sources, EU ambassadors fleshed out the document from just over six pages to around 20 as more details were agreed.
They also discussed an EU proposal that the draft withdrawal agreement be amended to extend the planned 21-month post-Brexit transition by two years to the end of 2022.