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UK PM Theresa May admits Brexit negotiations with EU are in 'difficulty'

Britain Prime Minister Theresa May gives a press conference during an EU summit in Brussels on October 20, 2017. (AFP photo)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has acknowledged for the first time that Brexit negotiations with the European Union have hit “difficulty,” as she pressed EU leaders for a Brexit deal she can "defend" at home.

Speaking on Thursday at an EU summit in Brussels, May explicitly conceded that talks were in trouble and said she “recognized the difficulty the process was in,” according to Downing Street.

"The clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together," May told her colleagues.

As expected, her 27 EU counterparts agreed at the summit that not enough progress had been made on other issues to begin formal trade talks now.

They have officially concluded that "insufficient progress" has been made in negotiations over citizens' rights, the border in Northern Ireland and the UK's financial obligation to allow them to move onto the second phase of talks with the UK dealing with trade discussions.

But European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU has agreed to launch internal talks to pave the way for trade talks to begin, possibly in December.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet Friday without May to discuss about a post-Brexit transition period and a future trade deal with Britain.

May delivered a speech in Florence, Italy, last month to encourage EU leaders to agree that “sufficient progress” has been made on the withdrawal for discussions to turn to trade.

EU leaders have been increasingly frustrated about divisions in May's cabinet over Brexit, saying they are still unsure what the UK wants, even after five rounds of negotiations.

The slow progress of Brexit talks has fuelled fears that May's government may collapse, or worse that London may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement with Brussels before its formal exit from the EU on March 29, 2019, which could cause economic and transport turmoil in the UK and EU.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in the negotiations.

EU President Donald Tusk warned Britain on Wednesday not to expect any breakthrough in Brexit negotiations at the EU summit, saying London needed to come up with more concrete proposals.

EU officials have been complaining that the British side has been weaseling out of its obligations and failing to address the three key points raised in previous Brexit talks: EU citizen rights, Northern Ireland's border and a divorce bill.

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