Brexit: European Commission says 'sufficient progress' has been made

EU, Irish and British negotiators have made enough progress on a Brexit divorce deal. The European Commission says exploratory talks between the UK and the EU on future trade relations can now begin.

Britain and the EU have made "sufficient progress" on a Brexit divorce deal, paving the way for the two sides to move onto the next phase of negotiations, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday in Brussels. 

Politics | 05.12.2017

The EU executive said a compromise had been reached after tough talks that would allow the broadening of Brexit talks to include future trade relations and a transition period. The deal could be approved by the 27 EU member states as early as next week.

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DW News | 08.12.2017

Jean-Claude Juncker: 'Sufficient progress has been made'

Transition period begins

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters that "exploratory talks" on Britain's future relationship in the areas of trade, defense and security could now begin. He emphasized that although an agreement had been reached for now, "the most difficult challenge" was still ahead.

During the transition period, Britain will have to respect all EU laws as well as stick to its budgetary commitments and the bloc's judicial oversight. However, it would no longer take part in decision-making that will be done by the 27 remaining states.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator pointed out that any final agreement on the UK's exit from the EU must be ready by October 2018.

The EU had been calling for clarity on three key issues — the Irish border, a financial settlement, and the rights of EU citizens in the UK — before it agrees to start trade talks on future relations.

"This is a difficult negotiation but we have now made a first breakthrough. I am satisfied with the fair deal we have reached with the United Kingdom," Juncker said. 

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00:17 mins.
DW News | 08.12.2017

Theresa May: 'There will be no hard border'

No hard Irish border

British Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Brussels early Friday morning to meet with Juncker after all-night talks with EU and Irish negotiators in London seeking to overcome an impasse on what turned out to be the crucial sticking point, the future status of the Irish border. 

Read more: The Irish border: what you need to know

May said there would be "no hard border" between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the UK would guarantee the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

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Arlene Foster, the head of the loyalist Democratic Union Party (DUP) which is propping up May's government, told Sky News that she was pleased that "there is no red line down the Irish Sea."

"We have the very clear confirmation that the entirety of the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, leaving the single market, leaving the customs union," she said, however, without creating a hard border between the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

The technical details of the Irish border issue will be fleshed out during trade talks during the next phase of Brexit negotiations. 

Irish Prime Minister  Leo Varadkar said his government would be "fully engaged and vigilant through phase two."

On the other two main Brexit issues, May said after much "give and take" an agreement had been struck to guarantee the rights of 4 million EU-UK citizens in and on the divorce bill the sides reached "a settlement that is fair to the British taxpayer."

The marathon talks come days before a Sunday deadline to reach breakthrough ahead of a summit of EU leaders set to take place December 14-15, where the decision about advancing to the second phase of negotiations will given a green light.

Northern Ireland's changing border

The Irish Free State

Britain's response to Irish demands for independence was devolution within the UK, or home rule. Pro-British Unionists didn't want to be governed by Dublin, so two parliaments were set up, for Northern and Southern Ireland. However, nationalists still pushed for full independence and in 1922 Southern Ireland was superseded by the Irish Free State as enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Treaty (pictured).

Northern Ireland's changing border

The Six Counties

Northern Ireland had been carved in a way that allowed Protestant loyalists to stay in control, but also ensure the region was large enough to be viable. It included four majority-Protestant counties in the ancient province of Ulster, as well as the two Catholic nationalist counties. Three of Ulster's counties — Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan — were placed on the Southern Ireland side of the border.

Northern Ireland's changing border

No laughing matter?

Involving members of the British, Irish and devolved Belfast governments, a 1924-25 boundary commission looked at the whether the border should stay where it was. It broadly remained in the same place, often cutting through communities across its 310 miles. The Spike Milligan novel "Puckoon," made into a film (above), charted the problems brought to a fictional Irish village divided by the border.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Roadside customs checks

The new border's checkpoints initially regulated the movement of certain goods, with movement of people being free. However, the Anglo-Irish Trade War of the 1930s saw tariffs imposed on foods and later coal and steel. The dispute ended in 1936, but Ireland still pursued protectionist policies into the 1950s. Customs stayed in place until the advent of the EU Single Market in 1993.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Bloody legacy

With an escalation in fighting in Northern Ireland in 1969, British troops were sent to the province, fueling nationalist resentment. The border was heavily guarded to stop weapons smuggling from the Republic. The South Armagh stretch was particularly notorious. The Irish Republican Army's South Armagh Brigade is thought to have killed about 165 British troops and police from 1970 to 1997.

Northern Ireland's changing border

South of the Border

The border was also policed by the Republic of Ireland's security forces, who intensified their anti-terror efforts in the late 1970s. They worked with the British, but the working relationship was not an easy one. To communicate with Irish counterparts, British troops at one time had to speak to the Northern Irish police, who would contact the Irish police, who would then call the Irish army.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Watchtowers and rifle sights

Despite the end of customs in 1993, the threat of terror still loomed and the border remained militarized, with watchtowers and soldiers. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which brought back devolved government to Northern Ireland and sought to address issues such as policing and paramilitarism — the IRA eventually halted its campaign of violence as border security disappeared.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Barely noticeable

The border today is as invisible as it has ever been, with free movement of traffic between the Republic and the North. The picture shows two policemen, one British, one Irish, watching as a foreign leg of the 2014 Giro d'Italia crosses the border in Armagh.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Anything to declare?

There are fears that Brexit would make a hard border necessary, given that Britain appears set to leave the EU Customs Union and Single Market. The border issue is one of three conditions laid out by the EU for trade talks to begin. Brussels says there must be no hard border. Campaigners, like those pictured above, have sought to remind the public of what such a frontier would look like.

cw/ng (Reuters, AP, AFP)