The EU has defied leading leave campaigners’ expectations of disunity today by quickly and unanimously agreeing the guidelines for the upcoming #brexit negotiations. Leaders burst into applause after it took a mere 4 minutes for them to reach agreement, at a special summit in Brussels of all 27 EU leaders minus the UK.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council highlighted that no negotiations on the future relationship with the UK will take place until sufficient progress on citizens rights, finances and the border issue in Ireland is reached. ‘Sufficient progress’ is to be defined by unanimous decision from all 27 leaders.

He said priority number one was the rights of EU citizens:

“We are talking about four and half million people, Europeans residing in the UK, and Britons living on the continent. We need real guarantees for our people to live, work and study in the UK, and the same goes for the Brits. We need a serious British response.”

“I want to assure you that as soon as the UK offers real guarantees for our citizens, we will find a solution rapidly.”

European leaders also made a declaration of support for EU membership for a united Ireland, in the event Irish reunification is ever favoured by a majority in Northern Ireland following a UK departure from the EU. This would be in line with the 1998 Northern Irish peace accord and is based on the precedent set by Germany’s reunification in 1990.

Spain has also been granted an effective veto on any future deal between Gibraltar and the EU, as was previously included in the draft guidelines.

Learn more about what else is in the EU’s #brexit guidelines at the end of this article.

EU Council meeting - Copyright: European Union

UK in a dangerous state of denial

Meanwhile, EU officials expressed mounting alarm on Wednesday that UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her team are in a dangerous state of denial about the consequences of leaving the bloc.

The agreed guidelines, described by Tusk as ‘firm and fair’, put the EU on a crash course with UK Prime Minister Theresa May over her claim the UK will be able to maintain access to the EU’s single market, which accounts for roughly half of all UK trade, without European Court of Justice oversight.

The EU guidelines make clear the UK will not be allowed to cherry pick access to the single market and that the European Court of Justice will continue to regulate trade with the single market.

The UK government is also to be denied its request for financial issues to be handled at the same time as talks on a new relationship. German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed this idea on Thursday, warning the UK against harbouring any “illusions” about getting favours from the EU:

Asked to respond to May’s claims on the general election campaign trail that member states were preparing to “line up to oppose us”, one senior EU diplomat said: “She’s right. She should not underestimate the commitment to unity.”


Key points from the EU’s negotiation guidelines

No cherry picking
There will be no “cherry picking” of the four core single market freedoms, which are “indivisible”. This rules out government’s hope of keeping “elements of a single market” without free movement of people.
Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed
The 27 countries will negotiate with Britain as a unified block, relying on the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. No individual countries will be allowed backchannel chats on future trade deals while the transition is still being talked through.
Phased approach for UK withdrawal
There should be a phased approach to the UK’s withdrawal. The first phase will set out to “avoid disruption” from an “abrupt change”, and the main priority will be to give certainty to EU citizens about their legal status. Once that is decided, the European council will give the go ahead for next phase of withdrawal, which would involve working out a framework for the future relationship.
Citizens rights are top priority
Citizens’ rights will be the “first priority of the negotiations”. The rights of EU and UK citizens will be protected when the UK formally leaves, which at this point looks as if it will be around March 2019. This means that any EU national who has been living in the UK for five years by that point will be protected.
Seek to avoid hard border in Northern Ireland
“Flexible and imaginative solutions” will be sought to the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, which has been fluid since the Good Friday agreement. Negotiations will aim to avoid establishing a hard border, which it is feared could trigger a return to violence.
A single financial settlement
No final figure for the divorce has been given, but the bloc will pursue one “single financial settlement”, meaning the UK will continue budget payments until 2020.

You can view the EU’s full guidelines for brexit negotiations here.


The Romanian President moves the UK flag during his press
briefing at the EU summit this morning; #brexit in a nutshell.