Theresa May flew back to London after last night’s talks, leaving the EU27 leaders to vote on whether or not to allow Brexit talks to move onto the next stage.
Mrs May was applauded by her European counterparts at a Brussels dinner last night after German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked the PM for her efforts in Brexit talks.
And today European Council leader Donald Tusk confirmed the news, congratulating the Prime Minister as he said the EU leaders were happy with the progress made.
But the collective line from EU leaders on Brexit today is that upcoming talks will be tougher than the first phase – and Mrs May must prepare for things to get a whole lot worse after a difficult week for the embattled PM.
Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, Mrs Merkel, senior MEP Manfred Weber and EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker are among the leaders who have issued the stark warning in yet another sign of EU leaders ganging up on the PM.
And Mrs May and her Brexit Secretary David Davis have been warned that if they thought the last year since the June 23 referendum was tough, the pair may have a whole new nightmare heading for them when it comes to opening up phase 2.
Speaking about Mrs May’s presentation to EU leaders, Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni said the EU27 “welcomed with great courtesy her kindness in making herself available”.
Brexit EU summit: EU27 battle it out with Theresa May
However, he warned: “We know that phase two will not be more simple than phase one.”
Earlier, Mr Juncker told reporters: “First we have to formalise the withdrawal agreement and put it to the approval of the European Parliament.
“Phase 2 will be more difficult than phase 1.“
The German Chancellor also weighed in as she praised the “significant progress” on Brexit but warned the upcoming phase is “an even tougher piece of negotiation than we had up to now”.
She said: “All 27 member states have put in tremendous efforts and stood together. I’m very optimistic that we’ll continue to go forward in quite the same spirit.”
Theresa May was applauded by her European counterparts at a Brussels dinner
Donald Tusk said a full Brexit deal by March 2019 is realistic
Donald Tusk said a full Brexit deal by March 2019, the planned departure date, is “realistic” but “dramatically difficult” as he warned Mrs May not to relax now
And Mr Tusk said a full Brexit deal by March 2019, the planned departure date, is “realistic” but “dramatically difficult” as he warned Mrs May not to relax now.
Mr Juncker added: “The real negotiations on the second phase will begin in March next year. I cannot say when they will conclude.”
He says EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will hold five or six seminars with member states “to find out where their intentions lie” on issues surrounding Brexit.
Austria’s outgoing chancellor Christian Kern, too, warned there are still many “riddles” to solve as part of the Brexit process – highlighting the Irish border dispute as a key area where more clarity is required.
He said: “To be frank, there are still some tasks left over from the first phase, for example the Irish border.
1 of 17
“Logically speaking if there can’t be border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland and there can be no checks between Northern Ireland and the UK but between the UK and Europe, then I believe even our primary school children can understand that there is still a riddle that needs solving.
Talks between Mr Davis and his EU counterpart Mr Barnier were held at a standstill for months as the pair failed to agree on some of the crucial issues surrounding Britain’s divorce.
The deadlock was only broken last week following a tough we of negotiations for Theresa May as she tried to satisfy the needs of the EU, the Irish government, the DUP and the British Government.
EU27 leaders have now approved the deal agreed and given the green light for talks to move on to the second phase, which will focus on Britain’s future relations with the EU.
It comes after Mrs May’s Commons defeat on Wednesday evening – which has only served to increase the likelihood of soft Brexit, according to the prime minister of Malta.
Michel Barnier and Jean Claude Juncker also hit out at May
Joseph Muscat said the amendment, which was pushed through by Tory rebels in the Commons, “complicates things” and means the UK is now “heading for a softer Brexit”.
He told Sky News: “It complicates things… This amendment complicated things in terms of a timetable – it doesn’t make things easier but would be put into the equation”.
If the Commons rejected a deal he said: “I don’t think that any issue of any extension would be at the European side – if you asked European colleagues we had to stop the clocks, we’d say yes, not sure the British side would be too keen.”
The embattled PM, who faced a hammering in Brussels this week as she tried to scramble together so form of a deal under immense pressure, was warned to expect an even bigger Tory rebellion over her insistence on writing Brexit day – 11pm on March 29, 2019 – into law next week.
MPs will debate an amendment enshrining the specific date into UK legislation on Wednesday, a move which Remainers complained would shut down the option of extending the existing March 2019 deadline if necessary to pin down the final details of a good deal.
Theresa May suffered a dramatic Commons defeat on Wednesday evening
Angela Merkel praised the “significant progress” on Brexit
However an amendment has now been tabled in the name of several Tories that would let the Government change the date of Brexit through further legislation if negotiations were continuing.
The motion would be a positive step forward for the government and Theresa May as her cabinet seeks to push forward into phase 2 of Brexit talks and secure a date for trade talks to commence.
Taking to Twitter to thank the EU27 leaders for accepting her agreement, Mrs May wrote: “Thank you to Presidents @JunckerEU and @donaldtusk. Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership.”
Shortly afterwards she added: “We will deliver on the will of the British people and get the best Brexit deal for our country – securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money.”