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EU sees very ‘difficult’ phase in Brexit talks

  • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, European Council President Donald Tusk, center, and Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas, left, participate in a media conference at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European Union leaders were set Friday to authorize a new phase in Brexit talks as time runs short to clinch an agreement on future relations and trade with Britain before it leaves the bloc in March 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) Virginia Mayo

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, center, during a round table meeting regarding Article 50 at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European Union leaders were set Friday to authorize a new phase in Brexit talks as time runs short to clinch an agreement on future relations and trade with Britain before it leaves the bloc in March 2019. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) Geert Vanden Wijngaert

  • European Union heads of state attend a breakfast meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European Union leaders were set Friday to authorize a new phase in Brexit talks as time runs short to clinch an agreement on future relations and trade with Britain before it leaves the bloc in March 2019. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP) JOHN THYS

  • EU leaders attend a round table meeting regarding Article 50 at an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. From left, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Romanian President Klaus Werner Ioannis, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) Geert Vanden Wijngaert

  • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, gestures as he arrives for an EU summit at the EU Council building in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European union leaders meet Friday to launch Brexit talks into a new phase and to discuss the euro and banking union. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May walks by the British flag during an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. European Union leaders are gathered in Brussels Thursday and are set to move Brexit talks into a new phase as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Theresa May over her plans to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) Geert Vanden Wijngaert

  • Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, center, speaks with journalists as he arrives for an EU summit at the EU Council building in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European union leaders meet Friday to launch Brexit talks into a new phase and to discuss the euro and banking union. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • French President Emmanuel Macron, left, shakes hands with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki prior to the EU summit in Brussels on Friday. ap photo

  • European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker arrives for an EU summit at the EU Council building in Brussels on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. European union leaders meet Friday to launch Brexit talks into a new phase and to discuss the euro and banking union. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • European Council President Donald Tusk, center right, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center left, arrive for a group photo at an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels and are set to move Brexit talks into a new phase as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Theresa May over her plans to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels and are set to move Brexit talks into a new phase as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Theresa May over her plans to take Britain out of the 28-nation bloc. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys



Associated Press
Friday, December 15, 2017

BRUSSELS — With British Prime Minister Theresa May already back home, European Union leaders stood united Friday in saluting the outcome of the first phase of Brexit negotiations, but warned London it will be “dramatically difficult” to get a full departure deal by the March 2019 deadline.

In a stunning nine months, Britain’s early braggadocio that it could “have our cake and eat it” while the EU could “go whistle” for a big British exit payment made way for Friday’s show of victorious EU determination, as the 27 other EU leaders acknowledged “sufficient progress” had been made to start discussing a trade deal and future relations with the U.K.

A payment of some $58.9 billion was as good as assured, full respect for the rights of EU citizens in Britain was well on its way and there was a commitment that the border between the EU’s Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland would remain transparent.

Somehow the all-so-often fractious EU had stood united, while Britain’s Conservative government bickered, fought and lost a parliamentary majority before May was summoned to Brussels to shake hands on a deal that had many pro-Brexit Britons grumbling.

“No doubt you remember that last Friday, Theresa May and myself saw each other at 7 o’clock in the morning, 6 o’clock in London. That was the sanction I imposed,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.

Back in her U.K. constituency, May welcomed the EU announcement, saying “the U.K. and the EU have shown what can be achieved by commitment and perseverance on both sides.”

With so little time left before Brexit is to take place, negotiators face a tight deadline to carve out a wide-ranging separation deal.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said a deal by March 2019 is “still realistic and of course dramatically difficult. For sure, the second phase will be more demanding, more challenging than the first phase.”

Juncker said he expected “real negotiations” on trade to start in March, giving negotiators little over eight months to wrap up the deal, since the EU legislature and the EU member states will need to get the necessary approvals in time for the scheduled Brexit day on March 29, 2019.

To give Britain more time, a transition phase of about two years is expected to be an early point of discussion.

Since March, the EU side has been marked by a high degree of cohesion, which has contrasted with the sometimes chaotic nature of the approach by May’s Conservative government.

“We got enormous support and solidarity from all of the other European countries,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. “The reason why the European Union got a good outcome in the talks so far is because of European unity and we now need to maintain that.”

The coming talks could well test that cohesion in the EU, not least because of the divergent trading relationships the 27 remaining EU countries have with Britain. May received a round of applause from EU leaders Thursday night after giving her assessment of progress in the talks. Her first priority in the next phase of talks is to establish a transition period, likely involving Britain remaining part of the single market and the customs union and probably lasting about two years.