HomeInsightsCouncil of European Union authorises start of Brexit talks and adopts negotiating directives

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The Council has adopted a decision authorising the opening of Brexit negotiations with the UK and formally nominating the Commission as EU negotiator. The Council has also adopted negotiating directives for the talks.

Both the decision and the directives are based on the recommendation presented by the Commission on 3 May 2017 and build on the guidelines adopted by the European Council (Article 50) on 29 April 2017. Their adoption allows for the start of negotiations with the UK following the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU (under Article 50 of the Treaty of the EU).

This first set of negotiating directives is intended to guide the Commission for the first phase of the negotiations. They therefore prioritise issues that have been identified as necessary for an orderly withdrawal of the UK, including citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the situation of Ireland, as well as other matters in which there is a risk of legal uncertainty as a consequence of Brexit.

The Council says that the first phase of the talks “aims to provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible and to settle the disentanglement of the UK from the EU.” Once the European Council deems “sufficient progress” has been achieved, the negotiations will proceed to the next phase.

An agreement on a future relationship between the EU and the UK can only be concluded once the UK effectively leaves the EU and becomes a third country, the Council says. However, discussions on an “overall understanding” of that future relationship could start during a second phase of the negotiations.

The Council also says that the negotiating directives can be amended and supplemented during the negotiations.

The directives cover the following key areas:

  • Citizens’ rights: the Council says that the first priority for the negotiations is to agree on guarantees to protect the rights of EU and UK citizens, and their family members, that are affected by Brexit. The EU27 insist that such guarantees should be “reciprocal and based on equal treatment among EU27 citizens and compared to UK citizens”;
  • Financial settlement: The EU27 agree there must be a single financial settlement and that the UK must “honour its share of all the obligations undertaken while being a member.” The UK should also fully cover any “specific costs related to the withdrawal”;
  • Ireland: the Council says that the EU is “committed to continue to support peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.” Nothing in the UK withdrawal agreement should undermine the objectives and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement, it says. Negotiations should aim to avoid a hard border, while respecting EU law. Issues such as the transit of goods will need to be addressed; and
  • Goods placed on the market and procedures based on EU law: if a product is already placed on the single market before Brexit, it should be allowed to remain in the market afterwards.

As for next steps, the Council says that the Commission will agree with the UK the dates for the first negotiating sessions. The first formal meeting between the EU and the UK negotiators is likely to take place in June. To read the Council’s press release in full and for links to the decision and the negotiating directives document, click here.