EU leaders expected to endorse next round of Brexit talks

There are calls for the agreement on the Irish border to be enshrined in law

EU leaders expected to endorse next round of Brexit talks

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, greets British Prime Minister Theresa May 04-12-2017. Image: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Updated 12:45

The Taoiseach is attending the European Council Summit this morning as negotiations on Brexit move towards the next phase.

MEPs yesterday voted to recommend that “sufficient progress” had been made in the first phase of talks – notably the commitment that there’d be no hard border in Ireland post-Brexit.

Following the meeting in Strasbourg, representatives warned that Europe will not accept “any going back” on Friday’s landmark agreement on citizens’ rights, Ireland and the so-called Brexit bill.

The warning comes on the back of since-clarified comments from Britain’s Brexit secretary, in which he suggested the deal was a “statement of intent” rather than a binding agreement. 

Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said he had been in contact with Mr Davis by phone and had been assured it is “absolutely not his intention,” nor the intention of the UK Government to backtrack on the agreement.

He said the best way to secure the deal is to “transpose all these commitments into the legal text of a withdrawal agreement” within the coming weeks:

“I think the best way to secure this is that in the coming weeks we transpose all these commitments into the legal text of a withdrawal agreement,” he said.

Guarantees

Speaking in the Dáil this morning, the Tánaiste said he would be seeking guarantees that the agreement cannot be rowed back on.

Simon Coveney assured the House that Ireland has the full support of the EU:

“What we will look for and what we will get is a very strong set of guidelines tomorrow which will ensure that if Phase Two is going to progress that the commitments that have been made in Phase One need to be followed through on,” he said.

“And where appropriate need to be translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.”

This morning, European Council President Donald Tusk has warned that as difficult as Phase One was, the next round of talks will be even tougher.

“The real test of our unity will be the second phase of the Brexit talks,” he said.

“Today and tomorrow we will also deal with the issue of a lack of unity.”

The Taoiseach is due to arrive at the Summit around lunch time.

Tory Rebellion

This afternoon leaders of the remaining EU 27 are expected to formally confirm that “sufficient progress” has been made and set up the second phase of talks.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May is heading to the meeting on the back of a humiliating defeat in Westminster.

Following a rebellion by 11 Tory MPs, her minority government suffered a narrow loss on an amendment to its EU Withdrawal Bill.

The amendment calls for a "meaningful" vote on any deal - meaning the British Parliament will have the final say on any exit agreement from the European Union.

Mrs May had argued the amendment would damage the chances of a 'smooth and orderly' Brexit – however, in the end, her Government suffered its first Brexit defeat by a margin of four votes.

Following the vote, Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the defeat as a "humiliating loss of authority" for Mrs May’s government.

Brexit Secretary David Davis took MPs questions this morning, as Mrs May was en route to the European Summit.

He said a transition period following Brexit will allow both sides to get ready for their final 'divorce.'

He also insisted preparing for a 'no deal' does not mean that's what negotiators are expecting to end up with:

European Summit

At today’s Summit, the Taoiseach will thank EU leaders for their support during Phase One of negotiations and it is expected leaders will agree that discussions should move forward quickly.

Mrs May will urge leaders to begin trade talks as soon as possible – however it is likely negotiations will begin with plans for a transition period, which Britain has requested.

A leaked draft of a text to be considered by the EU27 leaders suggests trade talks may not start until after the next summit in March, when a further set of guidelines will be produced.

What is worrying for Mrs May is that the European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that Britain and the EU face a "furious race against time" to agree a transition deal and future trade relations before Brexit in March 2019.

Dinner speech

Mrs May is due to address fellow leaders over dinner on the first day of the summit, when she is expected to say she welcomes the prospect of moving to talks on the future trade and security relationship as soon as possible.

According to British Government sources, she will again press the case for an ambitious future relationship which she believes is in the interests of both the EU and UK.

No deal

But back at Westminster, hard-line Eurosceptics are urging the PM to resist attempts to convert last week's Brussels agreement into a legal text, as Brussels is now demanding.

Conservative former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and David Jones have called on her to keep the door open to a "no-deal" Brexit under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

PESCO

Besides Brexit, EU leaders at the summit will discuss the launch of a new Permanent Structured Co-operation scheme (PESCO), which will allow EU countries to pool defence activities.

Opposition parties in Ireland have slammed the Dáil decision to join the cooperative – accusing the Government of attempting to ram through the decision without proper debate.

Opponents have warned the agreement could undermine Ireland’s neutrality and have threatened a constitutional challenge.

Additional reporting from IRN ...