EU leaders have confirmed that “sufficient progress” has been made in the first phase of Britain’s Brexit talks, giving a boost to Theresa May, the UK prime minister, and paving the way for crucial discussions next year on trade.
In a summit in Brussels on Friday, the EU’s 27 other member states endorsed the European Commission’s recommendation that London had given enough guarantees on the most important divorce issues for talks to begin on a future relationship. The three issues were the UK’s Brexit bill, the rights of EU citizens and the Northern Irish border.
“EU leaders agree to move on to the second phase of #Brexit talks,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of leaders, tweeted. “Congratulations PM @theresa_may.”
Mrs May was not in the room when her fellow heads of government quickly signed off on the end of phase one talks. They had applauded her on Thursday night to mark the end of several months of fraught negotiations on the divorce.
Friday’s declaration was widely expected after Mrs May secured an agreement last week with Jean-Claude Juncker, commission president. That agreement came after the British prime minister assuaged the concerns of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party over the Irish border; Mrs May relies on DUP support in the UK’s parliament.
Mr Tusk had said on Thursday that leaders would certainly confirm that “sufficient progress” had been made but that the next phase of talks would prove far more testing. The talks up to now have “demanded courage, realism but — above all — our unity,” he said.
While Friday’s decision was a formality, it is also an important milestone after moments when it looked as if talks between Britain and the EU might collapse. EU leaders had told Mrs May earlier this month that time was running out and that an agreement might have to wait until early 2018, which would have had perilous knock-on implications for the overall Brexit timetable. In the end, the accord permitting the declaration of “sufficient progress” was finally struck when Mrs May paid a pre-dawn visit to Brussels on December 8, following arduous negotiations with the DUP to secure their acquiescence. EU leaders have warned that there is little time for what will be complex “phase 2” negotiations over trade and the future relationship ahead of the UK’s exit date in March 2019.
Article from the “Financial Times”