The hurdle jumps and final gallop at the end of the first stage of the negotiations in December 2017 may well have left people panting so maybe it is a good idea to catch our breaths and have a swift review of where things are up to now.
On 15th December 2017 the EU Council assessed the progress of the Brexit negotiations and agreed it was sufficient to move to the next stage. Introducing the European Council’s guidelines for the future of the Brexit negations released on 15th December 2017 it stated:
“The European Council welcomes the progress achieved during the first phase of negotiations as reflected in the Communication from the Commission and the Joint Report and decides that it is sufficient to move to the second phase related to transition and the framework for the future relationship.”
The big collective sigh of relief was almost audible all around.
It had been widely broadcast that movement had been made by the negotiating teams on the question of at least agreeing an outline methodology for calculating the final amount that the UK would be required to pay as its contractual obligations for having been in the EU. Its financial settlement for commitments already taken by the 28 member states before the Brexit vote.
However, remaining there were still vexed questions outstanding relating to citizens’ rights and the island of Ireland and these had not been resolved.
Since day one, I have asked – and I have asked myself – three questions. And it is in the answer to these three questions that we will see the form of our future relationship.
Does the UK want an orderly withdrawal or a disorderly withdrawal and is it ready to assume the immediate consequences of its decision to leave the European Union?
We have obtained a positive answer to this first question. On 8 December we reached an agreement with the UK that represents a significant step towards an orderly withdrawal.
In other words, the risk of a disorderly withdrawal has receded, even though we must remain prepared for all options.
Tactical ambiguity by consensus.