Updated | Brexit breakthrough: 'in the best interest for the whole of the UK', says May

There will be no hard border and the Good Friday agreement will be upheld, said prime minister Theresa May

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo: Politics Home)
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (Photo: Politics Home)

 

Theresa May has heralded an agreement with the European commission to move the Brexit negotiations on to trade discussions as “hard won” and in the interests of all, following days of intense bargaining.

May and the European commission president Jean Claude Juncker announced the deal at a press conference early on Friday, when May and David David, UK’s Brexit secretary, travelled to Brussels.

According to Juncker, “sufficient progress” was made in the first phase of negotiations, while May said that the agreement ensured that there would be “no hard border” in Ireland.

The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, however, said that after months of negotiations over opening issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill, the hardest talks were yet to come.

“While being satisfied with today’s agreement, which is obviously the personal success of prime minister Theresa May, let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead,” said Tusk.

“We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and building a new relation is much harder.”

“Since the Brexit referendum, a year and a half has passed. So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task. And now, to negotiate a transition agreement and the framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year.”

Tusk said that during the two-year long transition period, which was requested by May, the UK would have to accept EU law, including the new law, its budgetary commitments and continued jurisdiction of the European court of justice, while having no role in the bloc’s decision making.

“All of what I have said seems to be the only reasonable solution, and it is in the interest of all our citizens that it is agreed as soon as possible,” Tusk said. “This is why I will ask the EU leaders to mandate our negotiator to start these talks immediately,” he said.

Tusk added that it was unclear to the EU what the UK wanted out of the future relationship once it left the customs union and the single market.

May, however, said she was looking forward to the discussions.

“Getting to this point has required give and take on both sides,” she said. “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.”

The issue of avoiding a hard border with Ireland had emerged as the biggest stumbling block in recent weeks to moving the talks on from the opening issues, which also include citizens’ rights and the divorce bill.

A new text agreed late into the night on Thursday with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) on avoiding a hard border was said to be a “significant improvement” by the prime minister, ensuring the continued “constitutional and economic integrity of the UK” after Brexit.

The new text offers guarantees that Northern Ireland will have regulatory alignment with the Republic, but that in such an event no obstacles to trade will emerge between Northern Ireland and the UK.

Juncker said May had informed him that the joint text had the support of her wider government. “On that basis I believe we have now made the breakthrough we needed,” he said.

“Today’s result is of course a compromise. It is the result of a long and intense discussion between the commission negotiators and those of the UK. As in any negotiation, both sides have to listen to each other, adjust their position and show a willingness to compromise.

“This was a difficult negotiation for the European Union as well as for the United Kingdom.”

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