British PM welcomes progress to new phase of Brexit talks

Theresa May says European Council decision key step to ‘smooth and orderly’ EU exit

UK  prime minister Theresa May:  “There’s still more to do but we’re well on the road to delivering the Brexit that will make Britain prosperous, strong and secure.” Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

UK prime minister Theresa May: “There’s still more to do but we’re well on the road to delivering the Brexit that will make Britain prosperous, strong and secure.” Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

 

Theresa May has welcomed the European Council’s conclusion that sufficient progress has been made in Brexit talks to allow negotiations to move on to the next phase, including discussion of a transition period.

Speaking to reporters in her Maidenhead constituency, she said the decision was an important step on the road to delivering a “smooth and orderly” exit from the EU.

“I’m pleased that it’s been agreed we should make rapid progress on an implementation period that will give certainty to businesses and to individuals. There’s still more to do but we’re well on the road to delivering the Brexit that will make Britain prosperous, strong and secure,” she said.

EU leaders suggested talks on the future trade relationship between Britain and the EU would have to wait until the transition deal was worked. But the prime minister said those negotiations could start immediately and that Britain could start talks with other countries on bilateral trade deals during the transition.

‘Fit for future’

“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. We’re leaving the EU on March 29th, 2019, we will set up and negotiate a new trade deal with the EU but also we’ll be negotiating trade deals with other countries around the world. This is about building a Britain that is fit for the future,” she said.

Labour’s international trade spokesman, Barry Gardiner, welcomed the European Council’s decision but said it would be a problem for business if trade talks were delayed for a further three months.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said that the really difficult negotiations with the EU lay ahead.

“Now comes the hard part. The outcome of these talks will affect jobs, living standards and prices for years to come. Yet with just over a year to go, the cabinet still can’t even agree on what they want the final deal to look like,” he said.

Looser arrangement

The cabinet will discuss Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU on Tuesday, in an attempt to agree a common position on the end state it is hoping for from the negotiations.

Ms May has avoided such a discussion until now because of divisions within the cabinet between those who want to remain closely aligned with the EU on regulations and others who want a looser arrangement.

The prime minister, who suffered her first defeat in parliament on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill this week, is seeking to avert a second defeat next week. Conservative rebels have threatened to vote against a government amendment which would put the date of withdrawal from the EU into the Bill.

Four Conservative backbenchers on Friday tabled an amendment which would allow the government to change the withdrawal date if necessary, which they hope will be enough to quell the rebellion.