EU leaders have formally agreed to progress Brexit talks to the second phase but asked Theresa May to provide “clarity” on what she wants the UK’s future relationship to look like.
The negotiations will now move onto agreeing a transition period for the UK when it leaves the EU in March 2019 and the shape of the long-term trade relationship.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, announced the decision on Twitter following a summit in Brussels.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said May had been a “tough, smart, polite and a friendly negotiator”.
Last week the UK and EU agreed phase one, the divorce deal, on the issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and the UK’s £39bn exit bill.
In its guidelines for the next stage of the talks, Brussels has said the UK must accept all EU rules and regulations, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, during any two year transition period.
The EU document said the UK must continue to accept the free movement of people if it wants to remain the Single Market and Customs Union during transition.
EU leaders also confirmed talks on the future trade deal will not begin until March 2018.
The UK has also yet to tell the EU what it wants the future relationship to actually look like.
And EU leaders today called on May “to provide further clarity on its position on the framework for the future relationship”.
Theresa May was applauded by European leaders on Thursday evening after reassuring them she wanted a “smooth” Brexit for businesses and citizens.
Responding to Tusk’s announcement, May said:
“We will deliver on the will of the British people and get the best Brexit deal for our country - securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money.”
The prime minister met her EU counterparts after suffering a humiliating Commons defeat at the hands of Tory rebels who have ensured parliament will vote on the final Brexit deal.
And May is facing a further challenge to her authority next week when MPs vote on a government amendment to enshrine the Brexit date of March 29 2019 in law.
Downing Street today insisted there were no plans to back down and remove the fixed date from the EU Withdrawal Bill, but added “a pragmatic approach” was being taken.
Jeremy Corbyn said the government’s “chaotic handling of the Brexit talks has hindered progress, fuelled uncertainty and risked economic damage”.
“Theresa May must learn from her mistakes, put the needs of the country before her party and prioritise negotiating a future relationship with the European Union that puts jobs and the economy first,” he said.
Analysis from Owen Bennett in Brussels
Stage one of the divorce/trade/ratification triathlon is over. Theresa May earned applause from EU leaders in Brussels last night as the divorce section of the Brexit negotiations officially came to an end, and today the EU27 signed off on the completion of phase one of the talks, meaning the attention can now turn to trade talks.
Minutes after the announcement, the EU27 published its guidelines for the next round of negotiations.
Contained within the three pages of text are some words which will make hard Brexiteers’ blood boil. The two-year transition period will keep the UK in the Single Market and customs union, maintain the ‘four freedoms’ (including freedom of movement), and continue the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Indeed, any changes to EU rules during the transition period “will have to apply both in the United Kingdom and the EU.”
But it’s not all good news! The UK will have no representatives at any EU institutions, nor “participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies.”
In other word, two years of obeying the EU’s laws and rules, with absolute no say in what they are. The Government will counter that as it takes so long for EU laws to be signed off, it is very unlikely anything new will introduced which affects the UK during those two years.
Still, this is going to be a hard sell for May back in the UK. Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg have already warned against her “red lines” fading, and accepting the ECJ for two more years might make them pinker than a piglet.
But that is a battle for another day, and May will just be mightily relieved to have got phase one over by Christmas.