That EU leaders have agreed to move to the next stage of Brexit talks and rubber stamp the transition period is no great surprise. It took just a matter of minutes this morning for them to wave through guidelines on the negotiations for a future trade deal between Britain and the EU. But while the announcement was something of a foregone conclusion, today’s news is still significant for a simple reason: Brexit talks are progressing in a way some of the doom-mongers said would never happen.
Of course, Britain – and the EU, for that matter – isn’t there yet. And a year on from the triggering of Article 50, there is plenty still to do. On a number of tricky areas – not least the question of the Irish border – there is a fair dollop of fudge holding things together for the time being. It’s also true that Britain has made life difficult for itself – Article 50 was triggered prematurely, for one thing, and as The Spectator’s leader this week points out, Britain has capitulated to the EU on a number of fronts, not least in giving in to Brussels’ demands for EU trawlers to continue to have access to UK waters until the end of the transition period.
Yet for all the predictions that talks would break down, things are actually on the whole progressing well. The tone of the Brexit guidelines is positive and in today’s text we see the plans for a possible trade deal spelled out clearly. This isn’t an idle promise: the European Council again ‘confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging free trade agreement’ in the document. Away from Brexit, the EU’s decision to recall its ambassador from Moscow also shows the depth of solidarity that continues between other EU counties and the UK.
Theresa May has said she thinks there is a new “spirit of co-operation and opportunity” in talks between Britain and the EU. Her statement sounds like a platitude. But she’s still not wrong.