The EU has outlined its Brexit strategy, suggesting trade talks could begin after “sufficient progress” on a separation settlement with the UK.
The draft guidelines, announced by European Council President Donald Tusk in Malta, advocate a “phased approach”.
They will be sent to the 27 member states for approval and will set the tone for two years of negotiations.
In Brussels, the EU’s foreign policy chief suggested the EU could manage without the UK in defence matters.
The UK formally triggered the Brexit process on Wednesday after calling for simultaneous talks on exit terms and future trade ties.
At a news conference, Mr Tusk said: “Starting parallel talks on all issues at the same time as suggested by some in the UK will not happen.
“Only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal can we discuss the framework for our future relationship.”
Talks would be “difficult, complex and sometimes even confrontational”, he predicted, but the EU would not “pursue a punitive approach”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the Brexit process by sending the Article 50 notification letter to Mr Tusk on Wednesday.
The two are to meet in London ahead of an EU summit on Brexit, which will not include her, on 29 April.
So what’s the ‘divorce’ bill?
The draft says the EU’s overall objective is “to preserve its interests, those of its member states, its citizens and its businesses”.
Calling for a “phased approach giving priority to an orderly withdrawal”, it suggests starting with discussions on the separation arrangement. They could then move on to talks about a future trade relationship between the EU and the UK.
The draft raises the issue of the UK financial bills with the EU, estimated to be as much as €60bn (£51bn; $64bn).
In a sign of the bloc’s determination to secure a “divorce bill”, it says that a “single financial settlement should ensure that the Union and the United Kingdom both respect the obligations undertaken before the date of withdrawal”.