Brexit talks make "sufficient progress" to move on to trade
UK and EU agree that sufficient progress had been made on exit payments, citizens' rights and the future of the Irish border to allow the negotiations forward in the New Year
Image credit: PA
Discussions between the UK and EU have now made “sufficient progress” for talks to move on to the second phase, focused on trade, according to Theresa May.
Following a night of talks with DUP leader Arlene Foster, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels with Brexit Secretary David Davis to meet Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier, with the two sides agreeing that sufficient progress had been made on exit payments, citizens' rights and the future of the Irish border to allow the negotiations forward in the New Year.
At a press conference shortly before 7am, May said: "We've been working extremely hard this week, and as you've all seen it hasn't been easy for either side. When we met on Monday we said a deal was within reach. What we have arrived at today represents a significant improvement.
"Getting to this point has required give and take on both sides and I believe that the joint report being published is in the best interests of the whole of the UK.
"I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to talk about trade and security, and to discuss the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in all of our interests."
Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the progress and called for the UK to remain in both the single market and customs unions.
The First Minister tweeted: “Move to phase two of talks good - but devil is in the detail and things now get really tough. If Brexit is happening (wish it wasn’t) staying in single market & customs union is only sensible option. And any special arrangements for Northern Ireland must be available to other UK nations.”
European Commission president Juncker praised May's "determination" to get a deal done after talks dramatically broke down on Monday when Foster rejected the Government's proposals for avoiding a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Juncker said: "Prime Minister May has assured me that (the deal) has the backing the of UK government. I believe we have now made the breakthrough we needed".
The agreement will now be formally ratified at next week's European Council summit in Brussels.
Speaking to Sky News, Arlene Foster said she had secured "six substantial changes" to the text which she had rejected on Monday.
She said: "There is no red line down the Irish sea and clear confirmation that the entirety of the UK is leaving the European Union, leaving the single market and leaving the customs union."
The DUP leader added: "There are still matters there that we would have liked to see clarified. We ran out of time, essentially. We think we needed to go back again and talk about those matters, but the PM has decided to go to Brussels."
The breakthrough is a boost for May, who had been under pressure to break the deadlock ahead of next week's summit.
However, she now has to sell the agreement to her own party - and win the backing of senior Brexiteers in her Cabinet, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
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