Britain hopes for Brexit progress; EU leaders cautious

French President French President Emmanuel Macron walks out of the Elysee Palace as he awaits European Parliament President Antonio Tajani in Paris, France, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

LONDON — Britain and the European Union are preparing to head back to the Brexit negotiating table after a speech by Prime Minister Theresa May that received a cautious welcome from the bloc's leaders.

May stressed in her Friday speech that Britain wants to keep closes ties with the bloc and offered to keep paying the EU and following its rules during a two-year transition period after the U.K.'s formal departure in March 2019.

EU leaders welcomed the constructive tone of May's speech, but called for more detail.

French President Emmanuel Macron said clarity still is needed on three big issues: the rights of European citizens affected by Brexit, the amount Britain must pay to settle its obligations to the EU, and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"If those three points are not clarified, then we cannot move forward on the rest," Macron said.

Negotiators are due to start a fourth round of Brexit talks in Brussels on Monday.

In a blow for May's government, credit rating agency Moody's downgraded Britain a notch to Aa2, the third-highest level, citing the country's debt burden and uncertainty about Brexit.

The agency said it was not confident Britain "will be able to secure a replacement free trade agreement with the EU which substantially mitigates the negative economic impact of Brexit."

The downgrade decision was made before May's speech. But Alastair Wilson, head of sovereign ratings at Moody's, said Saturday that nothing in the speech would have changed the decision.

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