The European Council has confirmed that sufficient progress has been made pertaining to phase one of the Brexit negotiations. This will allow to start negotiations on the transition and the framework for the future EU-UK relation.
The green light for the talks to progress in 2018 was given at a summit in Brussels on Friday after European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said last week’s divorce deal amounted to “sufficient progress”.
UK PM Theresa May was in Brussels for the two-day European Council summit at which she was applauded by leaders of the other 27 member states for her speech over dinner on Thursday. She told them that she wanted to approach the remaining stages of EU withdrawal with ambition, creativity and perseverance.
On Friday, as expected the leaders of the EU27 formally agreed “sufficient progress” has been reached in the first stage of Brexit negotiations.
Initially, the second phase of Brexit talks will be dominated by discussions over the transition period, under which the UK will continue to abide by EU law for roughly two years, but not have a role in any decision-making institutions.
May said she was keen to begin building a “deep and special” UK-EU partnership as soon as possible and stressed she made “no secret” of her desire to move the talks onto the next phase and to engage in these negotiations with “ambition and creativity”. She added, “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.”
May also said again that she will seek an “ ambitious and deep and special partnership” with the European Union in the future.
She added, “On the security issue, I’m very clear that although the British people took a sovereign decision to leave the EU that does not mean that we were going to be leaving our responsibilities in terms of European security.”
Asked about the vote that took place in the House of Commons on Brexit this week she said, “I’m disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU Withdrawal Bill is making good progress through the House of Commons and we’re on course to deliver on Brexit. Last week, President Juncker said that’s sufficient progress had been made to move on to phase two of our negotiations and this week the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to accept that recommendation too.”
She added, “The EU Withdrawal Bill so far has been making good progress through the House of Commons. We’ve actually had 36 votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill and we’ve won 35 of those votes with an average majority of 22. So the bill is making good progress, we’re on course to deliver Brexit and we’re on course to deliver on the vote of the British people.”
Further comment came from European council president Donald Tusk who said the summit marked the “the end of our first phase of the Brexit negotiations.” He added, “ I have no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of the Brexit talks.”
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Thursday night encouraged leaders to give May a round of applause as the British prime minister ended a short address to a leaders dinner.
Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said European leaders did not debate with May after her address because of the rules over article 50 negotiations, under which discussions with the UK are supposed to go through the commission’s negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Referring to claims that trade talks may not start until March at the soonest, EFDD leader and UKIP MEP Nigel Farage said:”Theresa May is being strung along with this latest delay. We must move on to trade talks as soon as possible. If the trade talks don’t start to March then why did she leave Downing Street early last Friday? we’ve been taken for mugs, no wonder the EU leaders applauded her last night.”
Emma Marcegaglia, President of BusinessEurope, commented, “Today’s decision is a positive step but we are far from the final deal. Companies are under time pressure as they need to plan ahead. We must step up negotiations. We urge negotiators to make additional efforts as we enter phase two discussions.”
She said, “Business needs certainty and a level playing field that allows trade and investment to remain stable. The worst case, a no-deal, cliff-edge Brexit, must be avoided. It would have severe economic consequences and would negatively affect companies’ business activities in the EU27 and in the UK. The months ahead will be critical and we count on strong political will on both sides to find the best solution for business and citizens.”
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “It is welcome that the European Council has at last agreed to move to the crucial second stage of the Brexit negotiations. However, this should have happened months ago. The truth is that the Government’s chaotic handling of the Brexit talks has hindered progress, fuelled uncertainty and risked economic damage. Theresa May must learn from her mistakes, put the needs of the country before her party and prioritise negotiating a future relationship with the European Union that puts jobs and the economy first.”