'We are making progress step by step': Angela Merkel upbeat on Brexit talks

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German chancellor Angela Merkel has given an upbeat assessment of Brexit talks, saying that she sees no reason why they should not succeed.

Mrs Merkel was speaking after Theresa May issued a direct plea to EU leaders to clear the way for a deal which she can sell to British voters.

Amid growing pressure from hardline Eurosceptics in her own party to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, the Prime Minister told leaders of the remaining 27 states that they face a "clear and urgent imperative" to give new impetus to stalled negotiations if they are to get an outcome which is acceptable to both the British public and their own people.

The EU27 will declare at the European Council in Brussels on Friday that insufficient progress has been made in withdrawal negotiations for trade talks to begin as Britain wants, with several leaders making clear they want more "clarity" about how much the UK is willing to pay in its Brexit "divorce bill".

But they are expected to offer Mrs May a glimmer of hope by agreeing to start internal "scoping" work on their trade stance ahead of a possible green-light for the second phase of negotiations, dealing with trade and the transition to Brexit, at their next gathering on December 14-15.

Addressing her fellow leaders over dinner in Brussels, Mrs May left no doubt that she needs their help to deliver a deal that is acceptable to British voters.

"There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people," she said.

Calling for "joint effort and endeavour" to inject momentum into the talks process, she told them: "The clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together."

Theresa May
The PM arrives for the EU summit in Brussels on Friday (Olivier Matthys/AP)

In an early-hours press conference following the dinner, Mrs Merkel brushed aside suggestions that the Brexit talks might collapse, saying they were making progress "step by step".

"I have no doubt that if we are all in clear minds... We are going to achieve a good outcome," said the German Chancellor. "As far as I am concerned, I don't hear any reason to believe that we are not going to be successful."

Mrs Merkel said she was "highly motivated" to work on a new mandate for chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier which might permit trade talks to begin in December, but warned that the second stage of talks would be "more complicated than the first".

Don't forget: May, Johnson & Davis co-authored the sequencing, content, and structure of Brexit negotiations with EU. They own this mess

-- Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) October 19, 2017

On the divorce issues dealt with in the first stage, there was "by and large general agreement" on the future status of the Irish border and "headway" was being made on expats' rights after Brexit, but Mrs May made no specific new offer on Britain's financial settlement, she said.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU27 need "more meat on the bone" of Britain's exit payment, following Mrs May's promise in a speech in Florence last month that the UK would honour financial commitments made as an EU member.

The offer made by Mrs May in Florence is believed to amount to around 20 billion euro (£18 billion), while Brussels is understood to be seeking something closer to 60 billion euro (£53 billion).