The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has finally succeeded in agreeing with the European Commission to move the Brexit talks to phase 2. After talks in the early hours of Friday between the chief Brexit negotiator David Davis, May and the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, it was decided that “sufficient progress” has been made. 

With a new text on Thursday, an agreement on Thursday was reached with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to avoid a hard border, while May confirmed that this was a “significant improvement,” which will ensure the “constitutional and economic integrity of the UK” post-Brexit. Arlene Foster said that the result of her negotiations with May was “substantial progress” but there was still “more work to be done.”

During this morning’s press conference, May and Juncker announced that they were happy to move on. Theresa May said that the published joint report was in “the best interests of the whole of the UK.”

In the report, the UK pledges to remain “committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

However, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, reminded the UK that the hardest part of the negotiations was just starting. He explained that the process was already a difficult one, but building a new relationship was going to be even harder. 

Tusk said: “We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and building a new relation is much harder. He did agree that today’s agreement was a “personal success” May, but he did also stress the limited left: “So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task. And now, to negotiate a transition arrangement and a framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year.” He emphasised that exploratory talks were needed from now on to investigate the future relationship of the UK with the EU in trade, in the fight against terrorism and international crime, in security, defence and foreign policy. 

Political comments

Indeed, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also warned that “things now get really tough” and that “any special arrangements for Northern Ireland must be available to other UK nations.”

Leo Varadkar, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, said: “This is not the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”

The Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said: “We have a good outcome, this has been a difficult negotiation, I hope both sides are happy with what we have. It puts a floor in terms of what’s possible in the outcome.”

Even hardline Brexiters were pleased with the deal, with Conservative Nadine Dorries tweeting: “This deal is an early Christmas present for businesses in the UK.”

Nigel Farage remained pessimistic and said: “A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation.”

Labour politicians weren’t sure how to feel, and their words were expressed with caution. Keir Starmer said: “Despite being two months later than originally planned, it is encouraging that the European Commission has recommended sufficient progress in the Brexit negotiations. The priority for both sides now must be to agree transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as we have now. That means staying in the single market and a customs union for a time-limited period. We will also need to know the political price of the deal struck and the impact any compromise that has been agreed will have on our future relationship with the EU. As the talks now move on to a discussion about Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, Theresa May must seriously reflect on her approach to the negotiations so far. We cannot have another year of chaos and confusion or the farcical scenes we saw earlier on in the week that put jobs and the economy at risk.”

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan admitted that May did what it was necessary, but he said that “we should have got to this many months ago” since the government needs to “accelerate progress - we simply cannot afford further delays. It is clear from the many conversations I have with business leaders that they need to know the details of the interim deal as early as possible in order to avoid having to put contingency plans into place.”

For political figures in the UK uncertainty remained and they all expressed that things would get harder. European officials expressed a similar message. Things were going to get tougher and the future relationship would be affected by various political and mostly economic interests. As the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung stated: “The message on this Friday in Brussels: it’s not going to get any easier – on the contrary. The EU is going to stay tough. Whether it can keep a united front remains to be seen. Until now, all 27 EU states had a common interest; when it comes to a deal on the future relationship, the situation is different. Especially economically strong nations, like the Netherlands or Germany, have different interests to, for example, Greece or Bulgaria.”