Spotlight: Britain, EU reach crucial deal to open next phase of Brexit talks

Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-09 02:37:37|Editor: Liu
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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) and British Prime Minister Theresa May attend a joint press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 8, 2017. The European Commission has found sufficient progress in the first phase of the Brexit talks and will recommend to the European Council to open the second phase, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday. (Xinhua/TheEuropean Union)

BRUSSELS/LONDON, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- The European Commission (EC) has found sufficient progress in the first phase of Brexit talks and will recommend to the European Council to open the second phase, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday.

Juncker made the remarks during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who arrived in Brussels before dawn for her second meeting with him in a week to secure a deal for Britain's divorce from the bloc.

"This is a difficult negotiation but we have now made a first breakthrough. I am satisfied with the fair deal we have reached with the United Kingdom," Juncker said.

He added that if the other 27 European Union (EU) member states agreed with the assessment, EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier was ready to begin work on the second phase of the negotiations immediately.

Barnier said the EC's assessment was based on the "real, genuine progress" made in each of the three priority areas: expatriates' rights, Britain's border with European Union (EU) member state Ireland, and a financial deal.

"By agreeing on these issues and settling the past, we can now move forward and discuss our future relationship on the basis of trust and confidence," Barnier said.

According to a statement issued by the EC after the conference, its negotiator has ensured that the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in the EU will remain the same.

The EC has also ensured that any administrative procedures for EU citizens in Britain will be cheap and simple, the statement said.

Friday marked the final deadline given by Juncker after efforts on Monday to secure sufficient progress necessary to open the second phase of Brexit talks failed.

May, who looked more relaxed compared with her appearance on Monday, said, "Friday's deal is in the best interest of the UK, and I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to discuss trade and security and a positive and ambitious future relationship."

She also said EU citizens living in the UK will get their rights enshrined in British law and they will be enforced by British courts. "They will be able to go on living their lives as before," she said.

A document issued by the EC detailing the principles reached in the deal said British courts or tribunals shall have due regard to the relevant decisions of the EU Court of Justice given after Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

As to the divorce bill, May reaffirmed that Britain will continue to honor its obligations. "We now agreed on a settlement that is fair to British taxpayers," she said without giving any specific figure.

The EC said Britain UK has agreed to honor its share of financing all the obligations undertaken while it was a member of the EU. No member state should pay more or receive less because of Brexit.

Britain also acknowledged the "unique situation" on the island of Ireland. May said there will be "no hard border" -- including physical infrastructure or related checks and controls -- between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island, and the Republic of Ireland, a sovereign state not part of Britain, after Brexit.

Britain consented to upholding the Belfast Agreement signed during the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s, paving the way for Northern Ireland's current devolved system of government.

"In doing so we will continue to preserve the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom," May said.

Britain also committed to respecting Ireland's EU membership and all corresponding rights and obligations.

"The United Kingdom would in the future operate the Common Travel Area in full respect of Ireland's obligations as an EU Member State, in particular without affecting the right to free movement of EU citizens to and from Ireland," the EC said.

Divergences between May and her Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), derailed her Monday trip to Brussels, as the DUP said any form of regulatory divergence separating Northern Ireland from the mainland was unacceptable.

The Friday deal is expected to ease some of the pressure on May. Professor Lain Begg, research fellow at the European Institute at the London School of Economics (LSE), told Xinhua: "If there had not been a deal, it would have been calamitous: it is undoubtedly an achievement for Theresa May."

Brexit supporter and Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "This is a remarkable deal that frees Britain from the constraint and the restraint that has held us back in the past."

However, the reprieve may be only temporary with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, warning that "the easiest part is over. Here comes the tougher part."

"The agreement has cost her more political capital than it should have. There are elements in it that represent fudges, such as the commitment to 'regulatory alignment' without a clear definition of what the term means or the ambiguity about the eventual size of the 'divorce' bill. These ambiguities could lead to problems from one side or the other in the UK if they run counter to the preferences of Brexiteers or Remainers," warned Begg.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also said more clarity was needed on the Brexit transition.

CBI president Paul Drechsler said companies had begun triggering plans months ago, but more detail could help suspend further action by firms.

"It's an important political milestone, but clarity on transition is the most important thing from a business point of view at this stage," Drechsler said.


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