The European Commission said Friday enough progress had been made in Brexit negotiations with Britain and that a second phase of negotiations should begin, ending an impasse over the status of the Irish border.
The Commission announced its verdict in an early morning statement after intense talks, which resulted in British Prime Minister Theresa May taking an early morning flight to Brussels to announce the deal alongside Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Commission’s recommendation that sufficient progress has been made will now go to the European Union summit of leaders taking place next week. May said she expected a formal agreement to be approved at the summit.
“Prime Minister May has assured me that it has the backing of the UK government. On that basis, I believe we have now made the breakthrough we need. Today’s result is of course a compromise,” Juncker told a hastily arranged news conference.
The commission said it was ready to begin work immediately on Phase Two talks, which cover trade and long-term relations with the bloc.
Moving to talks about trade and a Brexit transition is crucial for the future of May’s premiership, and to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and its sixth-largest national economy after Britain leaves on March 30, 2019.
Border with Ireland
May says an agreement between Britain and the European Union ensures there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
She says Northern Ireland has “a set of unique circumstances” because it has the U.K.’s only land border with an EU country.
The border issue has been threatening to derail the divorce talks.
Earlier this week, a Northern Ireland party that propped up May’s government scuttled a deal between the U.K and the bloc, prompting frantic diplomacy.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he is disappointed by parts of the deal, but that May did what was necessary to get to the next stage of Brexit talks.
Khan says the government must accelerate progress to avoid further delays. He says it is critical that business leaders gain clarity on any interim plans to prevent companies from putting contingency plans in place to leave.
Germany’s main business lobby group agrees that the negotiations must pick up speed.
Joachim Lang, a top official with the Federation of German Industries, or BDI, said Friday that German businesses were “relieved about the breakthrough.”
He warned that “the most difficult part of the negotiations lies ahead of us” and businesses need clarity “as quickly as possible” about future relations between the European Union and Britain.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.