European Union negotiators begun work Wednesday to decide what its members want to get out of post-Brexit trade talks with Britain -- and what they will never allow.
Member state officials will meet intensively in Brussels over the next three weeks, in an effort to identify and plug potential cracks in European unity before trade talks begin with the UK, probably not before March 1.
European sources said teams would devote meetings to a long list of themes and issues, including sensitive items such as fishing, citizens' rights and security.
They will also discuss potential tariffs on British goods and future ties with London's powerful financial sector, with a roundup of the talks released after each meeting.
The meetings will help draw up a negotiating mandate, which would need the approval of ministers from the 27 remaining members before the launch of trade talks.
According to two officials who requested anonymity, the EU mandate could be approved by national ministers on February 25, unless pressure rises to advance the schedule.
The UK is expected to exit the EU on January 31 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a wide parliamentary majority to do so in a general election last month.
Johnson insists a trade deal with the EU will have to be negotiated and ratified by the end of the year -- a timetable that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned was "extremely challenging"
She said on Wednesday that Britain could end up with limited access to European markets if London refuses to extend talks beyond its 11-month transition period.