EU Council President Donald Tusk will give draft negotiating guidelines to the remaining EU members on Friday, and the states will meet April 29 to finalize their negotiation platform.
First of all I would like to thank Prime Minister Muscat for his hospitality and the extraordinary job already done by the Maltese presidency.
This group includes French President Francois Hollande, who promised London an "economically painful" divorce, and European Union parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who said lawmakers would veto the Brexit deal if it proved too generous.
Withdrawal negotiations were essentially a matter of "damage control" following a Brexit decision which had created "disruption and uncertainty", he said, predicting that talks would be "difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational".
While the government says it would only use such powers to clean up technical issues, opposition lawmakers fear the Conservative government could bypass Parliament to water down worker rights and environmental protections introduced in Britain during four decades of European Union membership.
The European Council President's nine-page document states that there must be "sufficient progress" on withdrawal talks - including a "divorce bill" potentially running as high as £50bn - before negotiations on future relations begin.
"There is no such thing as a penalty for leaving the EU", he told journalists in Valletta, Malta, referring to the €60 billion or more in liabilities, which the Union will ask the United Kingdom to pay before leaving.
Tusk's draft negotiating guidelines say that other 27 countries are ready for a transitional deal after Britain's exit in 2019.
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"It is only fair towards all those people, communities, scientists, farmers and so on to whom we, all the 28, promised and owe this money", Tusk said. "There's a lot of good will, willingness to achieve what the prime minister has said she wants to achieve", he said.
Speaking in Malta, Mr Tusk issued a firm rejection of Britain's call for simultaneous divorce and trade talks. The outpost at the southern point of the Iberian Peninsula has a population of 32,000 and about 96 per cent of its residents voted to remain in the European Union previous year.
But it may also suggest that the question of the UK's "divorce bill" must be settled in advance of the vital trade talks. "Brexit itself is punitive enough", he said.
This means that businesses in the United Kingdom will officially lose access to the EU's single market on March 29, 2019 - unless they agree on a transition deal.
And when it comes to the U.K.'s land border in Ireland, which is key to the Northern Ireland peace process, Tusk's draft guideline says that "flexible and imaginative solutions will be required".
But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who campaigned against Brexit, said the guidelines showed "the strength of the EU in these negotiations and the carelessness of the United Kingdom government in isolating themselves from our European allies".
"That negotiation is led exclusively from the European side by [European Commission negotiator] Michel Barnier", he said, adding that this was a "clear demarcation line".