EU leaders 'must stay united in approach to Brexit talks', Tusk says
European Council president Donald Tusk has stressed the need for EU leaders to remain united in their approach to Brexit negotiations with the UK.
Arriving at a special summit in Brussels, where the 27 remaining states are expected to formally agree their talks strategy, Mr Tusk reiterated his belief that the shape of a future trading relationship can only be considered when progress is made on the terms of the UK's departure.
"We need to remain united as the EU 27," he said.
"It is only then that we will be able to conclude the negotiations which means that our unity is also in the UK's interest."
"As for now I feel strong support from all the EU institutions, including the European Parliament, as well as all the 27 members states."
"I know this is something unique, but I am confident that it will not change."
A draft negotiating position was outlined by Mr Tusk last month, including a clause that gave Spain a veto over the application of any future UK/EU trade deal to Gibraltar.
There are unlikely to be any radical departures in the final framework, with the EU 27 expected to remain firmly committed to a "phased" approach to negotiations.
Mr Tusk has insisted "significant progress" must be made on disentangling the UK from its ties and obligations to the EU before discussions can turn to the post-Brexit relations.
Key issues in the first phase are the size of the "divorce bill" the UK will need to stump up on departure - estimated by EU officials at around £50 billion - and addressing uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British expats residing on the continent.
Addressing the media in Brussels, Mr Tusk said: "We all want a close and strong future relationship with the UK - there is absolutely no question about that."
"But before discussing our future we have to sort out our past, and we will handle it with genuine care, but fairly."
"This I think is the only possible way to move forward."
"We also need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides."
"This must be the number one priority for the EU and the UK."
"And the Commission has already prepared a precise and detailed list of citizens' rights we want to protect."
Mr Tusk has also signalled a desire to resolve the thorny problem of the Irish border - and how to avoid customs and immigrant checkpoints on the politically sensitive frontier - before moving negotiations to the second stage.
Aside from dealing with the present day border, the European Council may also address its approach if the day came when the people of Northern Ireland voted to end partition and join a united Ireland.
EU leaders are ultimately expected to agree that, in such circumstances, Northern Ireland would automatically assume the EU membership already held by the Republic of Ireland, rather than having to reapply.
One of the more controversial elements of Mr Tusk's draft guidelines in March was a suggested veto for Spain on any future UK/EU agreements that involved Gibraltar.
Another recent issue of contention that could feature today is whether a free trade deal would include the financial services industry and, if it did, whether City of London institutions would still be bound by Brussels oversight.
Former Northern Ireland first minister Lord Trimble said there was no need to include a passage on the possibility of a united Ireland, saying it would only "stir up nationalist feeling".
The former Ulster Unionist leader told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "From the point of view of the Irish there is no need to introduce this, it's actually playing games with nationalist feelings and I wonder why the Irish government is doing this and why Europe is going along with it."
He went on: "Stirring up nationalist feeling is not necessarily a wise thing to do, but what I would like to do is to focus on the real issue, and the real issue in terms of the border is tariffs."