EU leaders give green light for next phase of Brexit

BRUSSELS The European Union agreed yesterday to move talks forward with London on Britain's exit from the bloc as leaders warmed to the British premier, but there was little clarity on trade, as well as on some issues already discussed.

On the second day of a Brussels summit, EU leaders agreed "sufficient progress" was made after a deal on citizens' rights, the Irish border and Britain's outstanding payments, giving negotiators a mandate to move on to the main phase of talks.

"EU leaders agree to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks. Congratulations PM Theresa May," European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, said on Twitter.

Discussion of a transition period to calm nerves among businesses is due to start in the new year, although talks on a future free-trade pact will not begin until after March - a date underlined by "guidelines" that set out how to proceed as Britain seeks to unravel more than 40 years of membership.

Mrs May replied via Twitter, thanking Mr Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker: "Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit, and forging our deep and special future partnership.

"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 globally, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money."

But the future partnership discussion is set to be difficult, leaders including Mr Juncker and Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned earlier, as they arrived for the second day of the summit.

The next, more decisive phase of the negotiations will further test her authority by exposing the deep rifts among her top team of ministers over what Britain should become after Brexit. - REUTERS