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The European Union gives green light for phase 2 of Brexit negotiations

After long and arduous negotiations on 7 and 8 December, the European Commission and the UK government reached an agreement to move on to the 2nd phase of Brexit negotiations, which would involve the discussions with European Council. The subsequent Joint Report that was drafted by the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom government aimed at taking stock of the proceedings so far. The final text reflected the ‘sufficient progress’ achieved by the negotiating parties during phase 1 on all open issues, namely the issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill.

In the final European Council summit of the year, the European leaders welcomed the progress achieved during phase 1 and adopted guidelines for phase 2. The Council specified that, in the upcoming negotiations, progress will be achieved only as long as the UK fully respects the commitments undertaken in the first phase, translated into legal terms as soon as possible. This provision is important, as it seems to have a dual meaning: first, it is a warning towards the UK Chief negotiator David Davis in light of his recent comments that the Joint report was merely a ‘letter of intent’. It implies that the EU will not accept any backslide in the commitments taken by the UK; secondly, it makes indirect reference to several UK ministers who suggest that the divorce bill is tied to the future trade talks.

Regarding transition, the Council took note of the UK proposal for a transition period of around two years, during which negotiations covering all topics should be undertaken. As the UK will continue to be part of the Customs Union and the Single Market during this time, it will have to comply with EU trade policy, to apply EU customs tariff and collect EU customs duties, and to ensure all EU checks are being performed on the borders with third countries.

The European Council reaffirmed that it is ready to take on negotiations about the future relationship, but this cannot happen before the governments adopt additional guidelines for the talks, meant to elaborate on the EU’s position. Such guidance is expected to be adopted in March 2018.

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