EU leaders unanimously agree to guidelines for Brexit talks

Donald Tusk has said "progress on people, money and Ireland" must come before trade talks

EU leaders unanimously agree to guidelines for Brexit talks

Enda Kenny , right, speaks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels. Picture by: Martin Meissner/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 16:52

EU leaders have 'unanimously adopted' guidelines for the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

European Council President Donald Tusk this afternoon confirmed that an agreement has already been reached at the summit for a "firm and fair political mandate":

Mr Tusk had previously said the rights of EU citizens in the UK, existing British financial commitments to European projects, and avoiding a hard border in Ireland will be the three core priorities for the EU in talks.

The UK is not participating in today's meeting, but the other 27 member states are represented.

Theresa May's triggering of Article 50 last month began a two-year countdown until the UK's formal exit from the union, although the deadline can be extended if all parties agree.

Speaking ahead of the summit, Enda Kenny insisted: "Naturally, making the case for Ireland will once again be my absolute focus."

The Taoiseach met Joe Healy of the Irish Farmers' Association in Brussels earlier today, with Mr Healy saying there is a "real sense of history here in Brussels".

"People, money and Ireland"

In an introductory letter ahead of today's meeting, Mr Tusk ruled out discussing a future trade deal with the UK until 'sufficient progress' has been made over the withdrawal process.

He stressed that the EU should focus on avoiding a hard border in Ireland in order to protect the peace process and Good Friday Agreement. 

He also called on the talks to prioritise the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and the UK's existing financial commitments to European projects.

He said: "I would like us to unite around this key principle during the upcoming summit, so that it is clear that progress on people, money and Ireland must come first."

A proposal from the Irish Government is set to be discussed at the summit which would ensure Northern Ireland could automatically rejoin the EU in the event of a united Ireland. Leaders are expected to agree to the proposal.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Germany's Finance Minister said there can be "no free lunch" over Brexit.

Wolfgang Schaeuble says the UK should not have advantages over countries which remain in the European Union.

Meanwhile, Chambers Ireland - who represent traders across the country - say they are working to identify risks and highlight the concerns of their members.

Chief Executive of Chambers Ireland, Ian Talbot, argues that companies need assurances He observed: "We're calling for a commitment from both sides - the EU and the UK - that economic stability will be prioritised in these discussions.

"Businesses are suffering a lack of certainty, great confusion, and a complete lack of clarity about the time-frames for Brexit to happen. So we really need a focus on that."

Flanagan's response

Speaking from the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Malta, Minister Flanagan welcomed the news. 

He said "I am pleased that the the intensive engagement by the Government with our EU partners has resulted in Ireland's concerns being reflected prominently in the EU's position for the upcoming Brexit negotiations as adopted by the European Council today.

"I appreciate the solidarity and understanding demonstrated by our partners on the Irish specific issues and priorities and look forward to continued close cooperation on these, as well as the broader objectives of the Union as a whole, as these crucial negotiations with the UK begin.

"Under the Good Friday Agreement, it is explicitly accepted that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that decisions about its constitutional status are a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.

"A united Ireland could only be brought about by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions on the island."