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European Union leaders agree Brexit talks can move on to phase two

European Union leaders agree Brexit talks can move on to phase two

EU President Donald Tusk congratulated British Prime Minister Theresa May after her 27 counterparts endorsed an interim deal on the terms of Britain's divorce, and approved the next stage of discussions.

The EU is willing to start talks next month on a roughly two-year transition period to ease Britain out after March 2019, but has asked for more detail from London on what it wants before it will open trade negotiations from March of next year.

Asked at a Brussels press conference whether Mrs May's goal of concluding negotiations by March 2019 was achievable, Mr Tusk said: "It is still realistic and of course dramatically hard".

"We will be beginning the talks about our future relationship, we will be beginning those straight away, and also talking about the implementation period that will give certainty to businesses and individuals", May told Sky News in an interview. The document leaves no doubt that a formal free trade agreement can not be signed until after the United Kingdom has left.

Mr Juncker said on Friday that the EU's initial priority was to "formalise the agreement" that had been reached before moving forward.

The EU has published its guidelines for phase two of the negotiations, with discussions on future economic co-operation not likely to begin until March. It will have no more lawmakers in the European Parliament, and any judges it has on EU courts will be removed.

At Friday's meeting, the leaders said Friday "sufficient progress" had been reached on the outstanding European Union bill Britain will have to pay, the rights of citizens in each other's areas and the commitment to maintain a transparent border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In a separate tweet she promised "securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, law and money" in the Brexit deal.

The EU's rules for transition include complying with EU trade policy, which means the United Kingdom could start its own bilateral trade negotiations (but cannot conclude them before the transition period ends), and can ask the EU and third parties to roll-over existing trade accords.

The document "calls on the United Kingdom to provide further clarity on its position on the framework for the future relationship".

Everything has to be wrapped up next fall to leave time for parliaments to ratify any final Brexit deal before March 2019.

Paul Masterton, a potential Tory rebel who abstained in the defeat on Wednesday, said it was a "sensible amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that gives us flexibility on Brexit date if we need".

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker commended May, saying she is a "tough, smart, polite, friendly negotiator".

Giving his response, French President Emmanuel Macron said that in moving forward the European Union had maintained its unity, protected the integrity of the single market and ensured "compliance with our own rules".

The first issue to be discussed, as early as next week, will be the terms of a transition period after the United Kingdom leaves in March 2019.