Britain and the European Union will progress to the next stage of Brexit talks following a breakthrough in negotiations overnight. The European Commission said that sufficient progress had been made in discussions on the Brexit divorce bill, the Irish border and citizens’ rights to allow trade talks to get underway.
There is no doubt that the deal is good news for the embattled Prime Minister, with some suggesting that her survival depended on progress being made before Christmas. But the agreement will not be without controversy. In particular, a passage in today's text promising that the government is committed to maintaining 'full alignment with...rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union' if it cannot reach another solution on the Irish border, is likely to worry some Brexiteers on what type of Brexit Britain could end up with. At the very least, it looks like a can kicked down the road on a problematic issue. The PM has once again this morning committed Britain to leaving the single market, but will this be enough to placate those worried by the agreement? What's more, there is also a consensus that the next stage of Brexit talks – on trade – are likelier to prove more problematic than these initial discussions. Theresa May is by no means home and dry just yet, and as Donald Tusk said this morning: 'The most difficult challenge is still ahead'.
The breakthrough was announced at a press conference early this morning in which Theresa May appeared on stage alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, who said:
— Bloomberg Brexit (@Brexit) December 8, 2017
‘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. If the 27 Member States agree with our assessment, the European Commission and our Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier stand ready to begin work on the second phase of the negotiations immediately. I will continue to keep the European Parliament very closely involved throughout the process, as the European Parliament will have to ratify the final Withdrawal Agreement'.
Theresa May then made her remarks in which she said:
'What we have arrived at today represents a significant improvement and I am grateful to the negotiating teams for their efforts. Getting to this level has required give and take on both sides'.
The Prime Minister went on to say that the agreement on citizens' rights would ensure that those from the EU living in Britain, and Brits living on the continent, would be able to continue their lives as before. May said that the Brexit divorce bill settlement was 'fair to the British taxpayer' and would enable the government to 'invest more in its priorities at home'. Quite how a multi-billion pound agreement fitted in to that was not made clear.
The PM also guaranteed that there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, saying that there would be no barriers 'either north south, or east west'.
This morning's breakthrough follows a rollercoaster week in Brexit talks which broke down on Monday after the DUP vetoed an earlier agreement. A number of key changes have been made to today's agreement to win over the party's support. This morning, DUP leader, Arlene Foster, told Sky News that
'We believe there have been six substantive changes and we are pleased to see those changes because, for me, it means there is no red line down the Irish sea. There are still matters there that we would have liked to have seen clarified'.
On the issue of the Irish border, the agreement is likely to prove controversial with some Brexiteers. Here is the key section from the publication which is unlikely to go down well with some Conservative MPs:
The full text of the agreement can be found here.
We'll keep you updated throughout the day on Coffee House with the latest news on the Brexit agreement.