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UK must prepare for Brexit negotiation difficulties, Theresa May warned

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The UK should prepare for "complexities and difficulties" in the Brexit negotiation process, Theresa May was told in talks with senior members of the European Parliament.

The Prime Minister met the parliament's president and lead Brexit negotiator in Brussels as the European Union's focus turned on preparation for the process of the UK's separation from the bloc.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz said he wanted a "viable solution" during the talks with Mrs May, Downing Street sources said.

Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is leading the European Parliament's Brexit talks, was also at the 20-minute meeting before the official start of a summit in Brussels which will see the other 27 leaders of EU countries meet later without Mrs May to discuss their approach to the talks.

A Number 10 source said Mr Schulz and Mr Verhofstadt said they wanted a "constructive process, while we recognise there may be complexities and difficulties at times, because that is the nature of any negotiation, overall we should keep our focus on: how do we get to the right outcome at the end?"

Footage at the start of the Brussels meeting showed Mrs May standing alone, and she will be outside the room as the other 27 leaders discuss their approach to Brexit over dinner.

Mrs May insisted it is right for the leaders of the other EU countries to meet in Brussels without the UK to thrash out their plans for handling the Brexit talks.

The "informal" discussion, which will take place after the Prime Minister has left the summit, is expected to see the European Commission's officials given the main role in the negotiations.

As she arrived in Brussels for the regular EU gathering, Mrs May said: "I welcome the fact that the other leaders will be meeting to discuss Brexit tonight.”

“As we are going to invoke Article 50, trigger the negotiations, by the end of March next year, it's right that the other leaders prepare for those negotiations as we have been preparing.”

"We will be leaving the EU, and we want that to be as smooth and an orderly process as possible. It's not just in our interests, it's in the interest of the rest of Europe as well."

She ignored repeated questions about private warnings to the Government from Britain's EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers that a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise and even then may fail to get ratified by member states.

Number 10 said Sir Ivan, who spoke to Mrs May earlier, was passing on the views of other EU nations.

"Ivan is there to report the views of others, he is doing the job of an ambassador," a source said.

"He was representing what others are saying to him."

Downing Street indicated the Government believes it will be possible to complete both the "divorce deal" and a new trade agreement within the two-year time frame set out under Article 50 of the EU treaties.

"The intention is that we will have a deal within the time frame we have set out which sees us exit the EU and allows us to trade with and operate within the single market," said a Number 10 spokesman.

Mrs May met Latvian prime minister Maris Kucinskis and Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, meaning that she will have held talks with leaders from all EU countries apart from Austria and Bulgaria by the time the summit starts.

The Lithuanian leader raised the issue of the status of her citizens living in the UK after Brexit. Mrs May has repeatedly said she wants to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK, but will only do so if the rights of Britons living on the continent are also assured.

Former Cabinet secretary Lord (Gus) O'Donnell said he expected it to take "at least five years" to complete a deal on the UK's new relationship with the EU and there was "not a chance" of it being done within the two years set out in Article 50.

Lord O'Donnell, who was Whitehall's most senior civil servant from 2005-11, told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour: "We certainly won't have come to any final arrangements in two years' time...”

"We'll have got some arrangement whereby we can say 'Right, from now on we're no longer going to be governed by the European Court of Justice'. But it will still be unclear precisely what the deal will be for all sorts of parts of goods and services for our trade, and certainly may well be unclear about what access we might have to their markets."

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