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July 11, 2017

LONDON (AP) — U.K. and European Union negotiators should be able to move from talks about Britain’s divorce terms to negotiating future relations before the end of the year, the top U.K. Brexit official said Tuesday.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier hoped to “recommend going to the parallel negotiations October-November.” Britain triggered a two-year countdown to its departure from the bloc in March, and Davis and Barnier met for preliminary talks last month. They are due to meet again next week.

The EU insists that major progress must be made on the U.K.’s exit terms — including a hefty divorce bill — before negotiations can start on the U.K.’s future relationship with the EU. Britain wants the two strands to run in parallel.

Davis told the House of Lords Brexit committee that Barnier hoped to signal in the fall that sufficient progress had been made. Once that happens, talks could move on to “free-trade issues, customs issues, justice and home affairs issues,” he said.

Davis also struck an optimistic note on settling the status of 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, and more than 1 million U.K. nationals residing elsewhere in the bloc. The two sides have sparred over the issue, with EU lawmakers accusing Britain of planning to give Europeans in Britain “second-class status.”

Davis said he wanted the issue to be settled soon, because “I view it bluntly as a moral issue.” “We don’t want anybody to be a bargaining chip,” he said. Davis’ positive tone contrasted with comments earlier in the day made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who said the EU could “go whistle” if it tried to impose an “extortionate” exit bill on the U.K.

Estimates of the amount Britain must pay to cover pension liabilities for EU staff and other commitments have ranged up to 100 billion euros ($114 billion.) “The sums that I have seen that they propose to demand from this country seem to me to be extortionate,” Johnson said.

“I think ‘go whistle’ is an entirely appropriate expression,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. Davis, more diplomatically, said Britain’s position on the divorce bill was “not to pay more than we need to.”

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