It’s official. Theresa May’s Christmas wish has been granted. At the EU council meeting today, EU leaders agreed to move Brexit talks on to the second phase of talking trade. Announcing the news on social media, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, sent his ‘congratulations’ to Theresa May.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) December 15, 2017
Moving forward, the EU withdrawal agreement will now be formalised and talks will move on to the new relationship between the UK and EU post-Brexit. The first issue to be discussed will be the transition period with Brussels insistent that all EU Law will apply until the end of the transition and all four freedoms will continue. This means freedom of movement is set to continue. It will be a cause of concern to some Brexiteers that in this period the UK will have to follow EU rules and laws but will have no representation in any EU institutions so little to no say.
Once the transition period has been finalised, the talks will move onto trade. This is widely viewed – both in Westminster and in Brussels – to be the most difficult part of the negotiations. It’s still not clear what the government wants from the negotiations – namely, what type of relationship Theresa May wants Britain to have with the EU. The Cabinet are expected to have their first conversation about this next week – where ministers will finally air their differences over regulatory alignment and regulatory divergence.
But for now, Theresa May will just be happy to have been granted sufficient progress after a difficult year. The celebrations in No 10 will have been dampened somewhat by the government’s Brexit defeat on Wednesday – which saw Tory rebels back an amendment calling for a ‘meaningful’ vote. Tusk’s tweet personally praising May – and the applause she received at the summit yesterday – shows that EU leaders are rallying around May. Her next big task is getting her own MPs to do the same.