Brexit mind games

BRUSSELS – The European Union called on Britain to lift a pre-election veto on some EU spending, warning it could disrupt the start of Brexit talks, and EU officials suggested London was needling Brussels ahead of negotiations.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Saturday, after a Brussels summit where EU leaders approved instructions for their negotiator, that Britain had blocked billions of euros (dollars) in EU spending last week.

European Union leaders endorsed stiff divorce terms for Britain and warned Britons to have “no illusions” about swiftly securing a new relationship to keep their access to EU markets.

At a Brussels summit marked by unusual harmony among the 27 leaders, there was a flash of the cross-Channel acrimony which some fear could wreck any deal when officials accused London of cynically vetoing some EU spending and demanded it back down or face disrupting the start of talks next month.

Meeting for the first time since Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the two-year countdown to Brexit in late March, her counterparts took just minutes as they sat down to lunch in Brussels to approve eight pages of negotiating guidelines hammered out by their diplomats over the past month.

They greeted the decision with applause, officials said.

The text will bind Michel Barnier, their chief negotiator, to seek a deal that secures the rights of 3 million EU expats living in Britain, ensures London pays tens of billions of euros Brussels thinks it will be owed, and avoids destabilising peace by creating a hard EU-UK border across the island of Ireland.

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