Meeting in Brussels on April 29, twenty-seven European Union heads of state and government unanimously – and rapidly – agreed on the guidelines for the Brexit negotiations.
Procedurally, as provided in EU rules, precisely because it is the departing state, the UK was not at the meeting.
In a tweet, European Council President Donald Tusk, who chaired the meeting, described the mandate for the negotiations as “firm and fair”.
Tusk told a news conference after the summit: “I want to underline the outstanding unity of all the 27 leaders on the guidelines for our negotiations with the UK…we now have unanimous support from all the 27 member states and the EU institutions, giving us a strong political mandate for these negotiations.”
“We are united not only on the substance, but also on the method of conducting the Brexit talks,” Tusk said, adding that he was referring to the phased approach accepted by the EU leaders at the April 29 meeting.
“This means that before negotiating our future relations with the UK, we must first achieve sufficient progress on citizens’ rights, finances and the border issue in Ireland. It is too early to speculate on when this might happen. However, it is important to highlight that it will be for the EU leaders to assess, and decide, if sufficient progress has been made. And this will be a unanimous decision of all the 27 heads.”
Tusk said that priority number one was “citizens, whose rights we want to respect and secure in the first place.”
The discussion had made clear that when it comes to reaching a decision on citizens’ rights, not only speed is of the essence – but above all, quality, as so many people’s lives depend on it, he said.
“We are talking about four and a half million people: Europeans residing in the UK, and Britons living on the continent. Over the past weeks, we have repeatedly heard from our British friends – also during my visit in London – that they are ready to agree on this issue quickly.
“But I would like to state very clearly that we need real guarantees for our people to live, work and study in the UK, and the same goes for the British.”
Tusk said that the European Commission has prepared a full list of rights and benefits that it wanted to guarantee for those affected by Brexit.
“In order to achieve sufficient progress, 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,” he said.
The guidelines will define the framework for negotiations and set out the overall EU positions and principles during the talks.
The European Council will update the guidelines in the course of the negotiations as necessary.
In the guidelines, the European Council states that the EU27 will keep its unity and act as one during the negotiations.
Core principles are that the EU leaders reiterate their wish to have the UK as a close partner, reiterate that any future deal will need to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field, emphasise that the integrity of the single market must be preserved, “which means the four freedoms are indivisible and excludes any cherry-picking”.
The other core principles state that a non-EU member cannot enjoy the same rights and benefits as a EU member.
The 27 heads of state and government agreed that the first phase of negotiations should aim to provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible, and settle the disentanglement of the UK from the EU.
“The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase,” a statement after the summit said.
An agreement on a future relationship between the EU and the UK can only be concluded once the UK has become a third country, meaning, after it has left the EU, the statement said.
“However, leaders declare readiness, during a second phase of negotiations, to start preliminary and preparatory discussions on the framework for that future relationship.”
The two year timeframe set out in Article 50 ends on March 29 2019.
The European Council meeting emphasised the importance of safeguarding the rights of citizens affected by Brexit.
They highlighted the need to avoid a legal vacuum for business, and referred to a single financial settlement that should ensure the EU and the UK respect their obligations.
In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, the European Council stressed the need to support the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Until it leaves the Union, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the EU, subject to all rights and obligations set out in the Treaties and under EU law, the statement said.
“All ongoing EU business must continue to proceed as smoothly as possible at 28, and the negotiations with the United Kingdom will be kept separate from ongoing Union business, and shall not interfere with its progress.”
After the adoption of the guidelines by the European Council and based on a recommendation from the Commission, the General Affairs Council on 22 May 2017 is expected to authorise the opening of negotiations, nominate the Commission as the EU negotiator, and adopt negotiation directives.