EU greenlights next phase of Brexit talks

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 09, 2018

Respite for PM May after legislative defeat in UK

Two days after parliamentarians inflicted a major legislative defeat on the British government, Prime Minister Theresa May won a domestic political reprieve, as the EU said it will give the green light for Brexit talks to move to the crucial phase 2.

The EU had insisted that until certain issues on the terms of Britain’s exit were resolved, talks could not move onto the far more complex theme of the terms of the relationship that Britain would have with the EU once it had exited, including the nature of any transitional relations that would exist to smoothen the process.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted his congratulations to Theresa May on Friday morning, on the second day of talks in Brussel.

The agreement is something of a formality — but significant nonetheless — after the meeting between May and Tusk last week, in which he agreed enough progress had been made. “Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future relationship,” said May on Friday.

Transitional arrangements

Welcoming the “sufficient” progress that had been made on addressing the issues in the first phase of negotiations, the European Council said the talks will now cover transitional arrangements as well as the longer term relationship. But it warned that progress was contingent on the commitments made in the first phase to be “respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.”

This condition is an oblique reference to concerns about comments made by Brexit Secretary David Davis, who cast a shadow over the deal agreed last week by suggesting the commitments made were just a statement of intent.

The Council also insisted, in its guidelines for the next phase of negotiations, also published on Friday, that during any transitional period (Britain has proposed a period of around two years) EU rules, regulations, budget, trade policy and laws would continue to apply to Britain. “Such transitional arrangements….must be in the interest of the Union,” said the Council.

Tough road ahead

These conditions are unlikely to go down well among so-called ‘Hard Brexiteers’ who are keen for free movement, and the European Court of Justice’s rulings to stop applying to Britain from the earliest date possible (29 March, 2019).

“Phase 2 will be more difficult than phase 1,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, President, European Commission, on Friday, acknowledging the tough road ahead.

The council also said the terms of a future trade agreement between Europe and Britain could also only be concluded after Britain fully left the EU. “The Union will be ready to engage in preliminary and preparatory discussions with the aim of identifying an overall understanding of the framework for the future relationship,” it said, calling on Britain to provide “further clarity’ on what it sought for the future relationship.

Whatever the challenges, the developments mark a milestone in the British government’s progress towards the Brexit deadline, which the government is currently attempting to enshrine in legislation. The first phase involved difficult negotiations on three major issues: what the rights of EU citizens in Britain would be and vice versa, how much Britain would have to pay to “divorce” the EU, and how exiting the single market and the customs union could be reconciled with keeping an open border between Ireland (the EU nation) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK and therefore set to leave the EU). While the Irish issue in particular has not been dealt with entirely, Europe acknowledged that sufficient progress had been made, and that further progress would continue to be monitored.

Parliamentary battle

On Wednesday night, 11 rebel Conservative MPs had teamed up with Opposition parties to push through a legislation to Brexit legislation, requiring Parliament to be given a meaningful say on the terms of Britain’s exit and future relationship with Europe. A further parliamentary battle is expected next week when the government attempts to push through an amendment that would enshrine the deadline of 29 March, 2019, in legislation — something that a number of Conservative MPs have also indicated they will oppose.

Published on December 15, 2017

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