European Union opens next Brexit phase, warns of tough talks

Aaron Brown
December 16, 2017

The EU also wants more clarity from the United Kingdom on what sort of trade and future relationship it envisages after Brexit to be able to start discussions on that future after March, when EU leaders adopt another set of guidelines for those talks.

It took ten minutes for leaders to adopt the guidelines for the transition talks to begin in January. "We have to make sure [a country that leaves] doesn't stay in a transition stage for ever - it wouldn't work for either the United Kingdom, nor the EU", Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar told press after the meeting.

It also set up a potential clash with London over Mrs May's hopes of negotiating early trade agreements with countries outside the EU, stating firmly the United Kingdom will stay in the single market and customs union during transition and will "continue to comply with EU trade policy", which bars deals by individual states.

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

Asked at a Brussels press conference whether Mrs May's goal of concluding negotiations by March 2019 was achievable, Mr Tusk said: "It is still realistic and of course dramatically hard".

Mr Juncker said on Friday that the EU's initial priority was to "formalise the agreement" that had been reached before moving forward.

And agreements on the Irish border, the so-called divorce bill and the rights of European Union and United Kingdom citizens, agreed by Mrs May last Friday, must be "respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible".

The UK will also need to continue to respect the rulings of the the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice during the transition period, an anathema for hardcore Brexit supporters. At the moment, no one appears to know how Britain can leave the European single market and customs union, yet maintain free movement and trade across that border.

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The document "calls on the United Kingdom to provide further clarity on its position on the framework for the future relationship".

"We will give the mandate for preparation for the Commission and ourselves for the negotiations for the future of our relations", Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said, seeing those talks formally starting in March.

"I'm disappointed with the amendment but acutally the EU withdrawal bill is making good progress through the House of Commons", May told reporters as she arrived at the European summit in Brussels.

Ministers are likely to accept their plan, which is a change that some of the potential rebels have been asking for, the BBC understands.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday that "some of us thought, including me, that she did make big efforts and this has to be recognized".

The four-page document also sets out the process for agreeing the terms of a transition period expected to last two years after the date of Brexit.

Praising Mrs May as a "tough, smart and polite" negotiator, he said he was "entirely convinced" that the final agreement reached would be approved by the United Kingdom and European Parliaments.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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