Breakthrough in Brexit talks paves way for second phase of negotiations
The European Commission has recommended to the Council to conclude that sufficient progress has been made in the first phase of the Article 50 negotiations with the UK to allow the Brexit talks to move to the next stage.
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual
It said early on Friday morning that it is now for the Council at a summit in Brussels on 15 December to also decide if sufficient progress has been made, allowing the negotiations to proceed to their second phase.
The Commission’s assessment is based on a joint report agreed by the negotiators of both sides, which has now been endorsed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May during a meeting with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Commission said it is satisfied that sufficient progress has been achieved in each of the three priority areas – citizens’ rights, the dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement, as set out in council guidelines of 29 April.
The Commission, in a statement, said its negotiator Michel Barnier “has ensured that the life choices made by EU citizens living in the UK will be protected.
“The rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens in the EU27 will remain the same after the UK has left the EU. The Commission has also made sure that any administrative procedures will be cheap and simple for EU citizens in the UK.
“As regards the financial settlement, the UK has agreed that commitments taken by the EU28 will be honoured by the EU28, including the UK.
“With regard to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK acknowledges the unique situation on the island of Ireland and has made significant commitments to avoid a hard border.”
Addressing a hastily arranged news conference at the Commission’s Brussels HQ at 7.30am, Juncker said, “This is a difficult negotiation but we have now made a first breakthrough.”
He told reporters, “I am satisfied with the fair deal we have reached with the UK. If the 27 member states agree with our assessment, the European Commission and Michel Barnier stand ready to begin work on the second phase of the negotiations immediately.”
Juncker added, “I will continue to keep the European Parliament very closely involved throughout the process, as it will have to ratify the final withdrawal agreement.”
Further comment came from Barnier, who said, “The Commission’s assessment is based on the real, genuine progress made in each of our three priority areas.”
He added, “By agreeing on these issues, and settling the past, we can now move forward and discuss our future relationship on the basis of trust and confidence.”
May said the latest Brexit deal was a “significant improvement” which had required give and take on both sides.
She said that it included a financial settlement which was “fair to the British taxpayer” and a guarantee that there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic, preserving the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom”.
May said the deal would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens in the UK “enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts.”
Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, told Sky News her party secured “six substantive changes” to the text on the Irish border.
She said, “There is no red line down the Irish sea and clear confirmation that the entirety of the UK is leaving the European Union, leaving the single market and leaving the customs union.”
European Council President Donald Tusk issued a statement on Friday which read, “I have received the confirmation from our negotiators that sufficient progress has been made. This allows me to present the draft guidelines for the December European Council, which I have just sent to the leaders.”
He said he would now make several proposals; “First, we should start negotiating the transition period, so that people and businesses have clarity about their situation. As you know, the UK has asked for a transition of about two years, while remaining part of the single market and customs union. And we will be ready to discuss this, but naturally, we have our conditions.
I propose that during this period, the UK will respect the whole of EU law, including new law; it will respect budgetary commitments; it will respect judicial oversight; and of course, all the related obligations.”
He added, “Clearly, within the transition period following the UK’s withdrawal, EU decision making will continue among the 27 member states, without the UK.
“All of what I have said seems to be the only reasonable solution, and it is in the interest of all our citizens that it is agreed as soon as possible. This is why I will ask the EU leaders to mandate our negotiator to start these talks immediately.”
Tusk went on, “Second, we want to begin discussions with the UK in order to explore the British vision of its future relationship with the EU. So far, we have heard a number of various ideas. We need more clarity on how the UK sees our future relations, after it has left the single market and customs union.
“I therefore propose to mandate our negotiator to start exploratory talks with our British friends about this problem. On our side, we are ready to start preparing a close EU-UK partnership in trade, but also in the fight against terrorism and international crime as well as security, defence and foreign policy. For this to happen, the European Council will have to adopt additional guidelines next year.”
The former Polish Prime Minister said, “While being satisfied with today’s agreement, which is obviously the personal success of Prime Minister Theresa May, let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead.”
He concluded, “We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and building a new relation is much harder. Since the Brexit referendum, a year and a half has passed. So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task. And now, to negotiate a transition arrangement and the framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year.”
The leaders of Parliament’s main groups were also quick to react.
ECR group co-Chair Syed Kamall said, “Today’s announcement will resonate in every member state.
“Their economies, security and the prosperity of their citizens are all going to be affected by the kind of agreement the European Union forges with the UK after Brexit.
“With that in mind, I hope the upcoming talks are conducted in a spirit of cooperation not confrontation. Both sides must see the negotiations for what they are - the world’s biggest trading bloc starting a new relationship with one of the world’s largest economies - and not as a recently divorced couple dividing up their possessions.
“As co-Chair of the ECR group and a British MEP, I will continue to act as a bridge between London and Brussels, in order to help secure a deal for a prosperous future for both the UK and the EU.”
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