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EU says Brexit talks can move to next phase
Negotiations

EU says Brexit talks can move to next phase

by AH 3 min. 15.12.2017 From our online archive
Council President Donald Tusk offers congratulations to British Prime Minister Theresa May in Twitter post
European Council President Donald Tusk (AFP)

Talks between the European Union and the UK about its withdrawal from the bloc have progressed enough to move to a second phase of discussions on their future relationship and a potential transition period, the European Council said on Friday.

"Negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible," the Council said in a statement released during their meeting in Brussels.

Council President Donald Tusk told a news conference at the end of the meeting that reaching a final agreement by the March 2019 deadline, when the UK will leave the EU, won't be easy.

"It is still realistic and dramatically difficult," he said. "The second phase will be more demanding and challenging than the first for us."

In a separate press conference Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said solidarity among the 27 EU members that will remain post Brexit is important.

Leo Varadkar (AFP)
Leo Varadkar (AFP)

"The reason why we have a good outcome so far was because of unity and we need to keep that unity," he said.

The UK and EU announced an agreement on December 8 on the first phase of Brexit talks.

It covered the areas of citizens' rights, the financial settlement for what the UK will have to pay to meet its obligations when it was an EU member and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which will remain in the bloc.

The European Parliament said on Wednesday there had been sufficient progress on those issues. The Council, with the final say, endorsed that view.

Next year the EU is to form workgroups to study issues that will come up in the negotiations. that resume in March.

Britons voted 51.9% to 48.1% to leave in a referendum in June, 2016. May triggered article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty this year, starting a two-year countdown for Brexit talks.

Transition

The Council said it "notes" the British proposal for a two-year transition phase after it leaves. 

Should that be agreed, the UK will "no longer participate in or nominate or elect members of the EU institutions, nor participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies," the Council said.

The country would continue to be subject to EU laws and institutions, including the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.

Ireland's Varadkar said any transition period should be strictly time-limited and not extendable. To do otherwise could produce a "European limbo," he said.

Britain's Prime minister Theresa May.
Britain's Prime minister Theresa May.

May's leadership was weakened when she lost her parliamentary majority at a general election in June.

She is now propped up by the votes of 10 lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party and was defeated in the House of Commons on Wednesday when MPs changed planned legislation to give themselves a vote on the exit terms.

She welcomed Friday's Council decision.

"Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership," May wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Further clarity

The Council called on the UK "to provide further clarity on its position on the framework for the future relationship."

Any deal must be completed sufficiently by October so the European Parliament has time to approve it. That may not be easy.

"If you want simply to continue all the cooperation in the EU, why the hell do you want to go out?" Guy Verhofstadt, the parliament's Brexit coordinator, said in a speech he posted on Twitter on Friday.

"You criticise the EU then you say 'we want to continue a, b, c, d' and you go until z," he said. "OK, we'll see."

The European Council defines the EU's general political direction and priorities. It is made up of the heads of government or state of EU countries, its president and the president of the European Commission.

(First published at 14:39, updated with comments from press conferences.)