The EU Council agrees the next phase of Brexit talks can begin

  • EU Council agrees that the next phase of Brexit talks can begin.
  • 27 other EU countries agree that “sufficient progress” has been made in Brexit divorce talks.
  • Theresa May welcomes the agreement.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker congratulates the “excellent work” of negotiators on both sides.
  • However, trade talks are set to be delayed for months while May’s Cabinet agrees its position.

LONDON – The EU Council has formally agreed that negotiations to begin on Britain’s future relationship with the EU after months of talks on Britain’s divorce proceedings.

Leaders of the 27 other EU countries met on Friday morning to decide whether there had been “sufficient progress” on divorce talks in order to allow the next phase of negotiations to begin.

EU Council president Donald Tusk tweeted his congratulations to May on Friday morning.

He later added in a press conference that “sufficient progress” wouldn’t have been achieved “without the unity of the E27, hard work of Michel Barnier, and constructive effort of Prime Minister May.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute to the “excellent work” of negotiators on both sides and described May as a “tough, smart, polite” negotiator.

European leaders have agreed that Britain made enough progress on the future of the Irish border, citizens rights and the so-called “divorce bill” to allow talks to progress to the next phase.

May thanked Tusk, saying that today was an “important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership.”

Guidelines published by the EU Council on Friday state that they will now be willing to begin “preliminary and preparatory discussions” on Britain’s future relationship.

Tusk added that the EU soon will begin “exploratory contacts” with Britain on its future relationship.

However, formal talks on a future trade deal are set to be delayed, with EU leaders still uncertain as to what May’s government are hoping to achieve, with an agreement only coming after Britain has left.

“An agreement on a future relationship can only be finalised and concluded once the United Kingdom has become a third country.”

This means that full trade talks will not get underway until March, just eight months before EU leaders want a final deal to be finalised and sent off to the European Parliament for ratification.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that May must set out her plans soon.

“She’s holding her cards close to her heart at the moment, which I understand on the next phase and this is probably a wise negotiating tactic,” he said on Thursday.

“But I think we need… to understand how she sees this future relationship with the EU. It’s now for the UK to make up its mind.”

However, May is resistant to agreeing a firm position by March, amid fears that any clear line at this stage will simply re-open Cabinet tensions over Brexit.

May told European leaders at a summit in Brussels on Thursday that she accepted that talks on an “implementation period,” which is May’s choice of term for a transition period, must come first.

This pledge was reportedly met with a round of applause, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I believe this is in the best interests of the UK and the European Union,” May said.

“A particular priority should be agreement on the implementation period so that we can bring greater certainty to businesses in the UK and across the 27.”

Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested that Britain and the EU could negotiate a “Canada plus plus” trade deal. This would involve replicating the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) but with the addition of an arrangement on services.

A future trade deal of that scope and comprehensiveness would likely over five years to negotiate and would require ratification from the national and regional parliaments of all EU member states. CETA took seven years to finalise.

The Cabinet is set to meet next Tuesday to discuss for the first time what they want from the Brexit “end state.”

What has been agreed?

The EU has agreed that “sufficient progress” has been made on the first phase of Brexit talks in order to allow the next stage to begin. While Britain’s so-called divorce deal has not been finalised, the EU Council agreed that the UK had made enough concessions for talks about Britain’s future relationship with the EU to begin.

What happens next?

The EU and UK will now begin talks on a possible transition phase for the period after Britain leaves the EU. Under the plans currently being put forward by both sides, Britain would leave the EU in March 2019 but continue to operate under the same trade and customs rules for at least two years, while losing voting rights. The European Court of Justice is also likely to retain jurisdiction over the UK during this period. Under the guidelines published today, the “full aquis” of EU law would continue to apply, including controversially, freedom of movement rules. Under EU plans, once a transition is agreed, talks on Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU will then finally be able to begin.

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