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Brexit

Risk of messy divorce if Brexit talks falter, Jeremy Hunt warns

File photo dated 31/03/17 of the Union flag and the EU flag flying from the same mast above the Summerhall building in Edinburgh. EU citizens living in the UK are in Brussels to urge members of the European Parliament and Commission to ensure their rights are guaranteed after Brexit. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday May 11, 2017. Anne-Laure Donskoy will tell MEPs that EU citizens' rights "to work, to marry, to have access to health services and education, to build a business" are "at risk" and should be "guaranteed and preserved not just for the short or medium term but permanently". See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

By David Hughes, Press Association Chief Political Correspondent

The UK and EU face a "messy divorce" if Brexit talks break down, Jeremy Hunt warned as Britain stepped up efforts to find a breakthrough in the process.

The Foreign Secretary said failure to reach an agreement would be a "terrible mistake" and called for the EU to help find a "pragmatic solution" to the current impasse.

But his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl played down Mr Hunt's warnings that both sides could be heading for an accidental no-deal Brexit although she acknowledged that they were "prepared for the different possible scenarios".

Meanwhile, Theresa May was planning to cut short her holiday in the Italian Lakes to hold a face-to-face meeting with Emmanuel Macron, one of Europe's key powerbrokers.

She will travel to the south of France to meet the French president at his Fort de Bregancon country retreat on the Mediterranean coast on Friday.

Mr Hunt's visit to Austria coincides with the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, giving Vienna a key role in deciding the agenda for the bloc's leaders.

Speaking alongside his Austrian counterpart the Foreign Secretary said: "Austria has a special role because of its EU presidency and so all we say is, looking at your huge experience of foreign policy and historical knowledge, let's not make this one of those moments where a terrible mistake is made which we are still talking about in 20 or 30 years.

"Let's have a pragmatic solution that allows that deep and special partnership, friendship, between the UK and Europe to continue."

In a Twitter message he added: "We want the EU to prosper but there is a real risk of a messy divorce which would be a geostrategic mistake."

The Foreign Secretary has previously warned that the UK and EU could end up in a no-deal situation by accident even though neither side wants it.

But ahead of their talks Ms Kneissl poured cold water on that suggestion, telling BBC Radio 4's Today: "From the (European) Commission's side, there is a clear-cut schedule, so an accident is not really something people are working for."

She later said that the talks with Mr Hunt had been "excellent and inspiring" and insisted that "we pursue a pragmatic approach and are prepared for the different possible scenarios of Brexit".