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Friday, December 8, 2017

Brexit: Breakthrough in Brussels after week of drama

British Prime Minister - Theresa May

London (CNN)The UK and the European Union reached a significant milestone in their pursuit of a Brexit deal on Friday, breaking a deadlock that allows talks to move on to a crucial second phase.
After a night of last minute shuttle diplomacy that capped months of tortuous negotiations, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the breakthrough at an early morning press conference in Brussels.
Crucially, the two sides reached a deal on the historically sensitive issue of the Irish border, which had threatened to derail the talks as they reached a critical moment earlier this week. Discussions can now move on to the potentially more thorny issue of a future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

The breakthrough represents a significant coup for May, whose beleaguered leadership had appeared under threat as talks faltered. It was also a relief for EU negotiators, who feared a complete breakdown in talks if a deal was not done.
A deal was done on three key issues: Britain's Brexit "divorce" bill, the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, and the Irish border.
"Getting to this point required give and take on both sides," May said. "And I believe the joint report that is being published is in the best interesst of the whole of the UK."
Border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU, had been a sticking point, with fears check points could damage both economies and undermine hard-won peace in the North.
Following late night talks between May's Conservatives and her governing partners, the hardline Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, May rushed to Brussels Friday.
Speaking alongside May in the European capital, Juncker said, "we had to make the deal today," as a December 14 deadline approached.
"Sufficient progress has now been made on the three terms of the divorce," Juncker said, referring to conditions the EU had requested regarding a number of issues including the Irish border. Negotiations for the UK to leave the EU can now proceed to the next stage.

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"This hasn't been easy for either side," May said. "Getting to this point has required give and take on both sides."
Referring to a sticking point between her party and the DUP, May said, "in Northern Ireland we will guarantee there will be no hard border, and we will uphold the (Good Friday Agreement)."
"No barrier north-south or east-west," she said.
The parties had been close to a deal earlier this week on proposed arrangements for Northern Ireland's border controls but it fell through after objections from the DUP.

Brexit showdown bringing uncertainty to

What was agreed?
When Brexit negotiations began just under six months ago, the EU was clear on its position: It would not countenance any discussion about a future relationship with Britain until "sufficient progress" had been made on three issues.
Those are:
-- that rights of European citizens in the UK are guaranteed
-- that Britain pay a substantial "divorce bill"
-- and that there is no reinstatement of a hard border between Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU with the rest of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU.
Progress has now been made, according to a joint declaration by EU and UK negotiators.
"The deal we have struck will guarantee the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK, and over one million UK citizens in the EU," May said.
European citizens remaining in the UK post Brexit will retain social security, healthcare and a number of other legal rights, according to the declaration.
A framework was also agreed towards a financial settlement, including the UK contributing to annual EU budgets until 2020.

Northern Ireland issue
Language on the Irish situation was less clear. The declaration recognizes the UK's withdrawal from the EU "presents a significant and unique challenge in relation to the island of Ireland" and the need to avoid a hard border with check points and controls.
"The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border," the declaration said.
"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."
The Republic of Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter Dublin "supports Brexit negotiations moving to Phase 2 now that we have secured assurances for all on the island of Ireland -- fully protecting (the Good Friday agreement), peace process, all-island economy and ensuring there can be NO HARD BORDER."
In a statement, the DUP said it had clear commitments from the Conservatives "Northern Ireland will leave the single market and the customs union along with the rest of the United Kingdom."
"Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom," the statement said.
This would seem to indicate the DUP is taking a hard line on any special circumstances for Northern Ireland. The party, which opposes any separation from the UK, has been adamant it will not support any deal which sees different policies for Northern Ireland compared to England, Wales and Scotland.
This stance could have a major effect on the rest of the UK. Under the joint declaration, in the absence of specific solutions to deal with the Irish issue, the entirety of the UK will remain in "full alignment" with EU regulations and those of the customs union which, "now or in the future" avoid a hard Irish border.

CNN's Marilia Brocchetto and James Masters contributed reporting.

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