Thanks for following the blog today and for all your comments. I’m wrapping up proceedings now with this summary:
EU leaders have give the green light for Brexit negotiations to move to phase two, addressing Britain’s future relationship with the bloc. They ruled that sufficient progress had been made on the opening issues to go forward.
But Theresa May and the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker gave conflicting accounts of when the next stage of negotiations will actually begin. May said they should start “straight away” while Juncker said the European Commission president said they would not start in earnest until March.
The European Council president, Donald Tusk, congratulated May but warned that the second phase talks would be tougher. Tusk said it was “still realistic” to complete phase two Brexit talks by the October deadline but, in comments echoed by Angela Merkel, he told reporters that the next phase would be “more demanding, more challenging”.
May called the decision “an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit”. She insisted that Britain would be exiting the European Union on 29 March 2019 despite EU guidelines saying that Britain would be subject to EU law and the four freedoms during the anticipated two-year transition period. The Brexit secretary David Davis called it a milestone, declaring: “We are ready for the next stage.”
Five leading British business groups welcomed the news but warned that that jobs were at risk unless swift progress was made in the second phase.