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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Brexit talks to move to second phase after clearing Northern Ireland hurdle

EU accepts proposal on status of Northern Ireland hammered out by Theresa May during overnight talks with Democratic Unionist Party

Britain's prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker address a morning press conference at the EC headquarters in Brussels on December 8, 2017. Yves Herman / Reuters
Britain's prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker address a morning press conference at the EC headquarters in Brussels on December 8, 2017. Yves Herman / Reuters

Britain and the European Union have made sufficient progress in negotiations on the terms of their divorce to move on to the second phase of talks, the European Commission said on Friday.

The go-ahead from EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker came at a morning press conference with British prime minister Theresa May, who flew to Brussels early on Friday following a night of negotiations with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party on the status of the territory after Britain's exit from the EU.

The DUP supports Mrs May's minority government and had objected to the terms of an earlier proposal. The Irish broadcaster RTE reported that text was added to the agreement granting Northern Ireland guaranteed access to the UK market, in a concession to the party.

The Republic of Ireland had also threatened, as an EU member, to reject any British proposal that created a "hard border" with Northern Ireland.

Arlene Foster, the leader of Northern Ireland’s DUP, told Sky News that there had been substantial changes made to the text of Britain's proposal, and that the agreement meant there would be no red line down the Irish Sea - a point she had raised on Monday as a deal breaker. Ms Foster said there were still matters that she would have liked clarified, a hint that while the DUP seems on board it reserves the right to make life difficult for May further down the line.

Friday's agreement means Brexit negotiations can now move on to the terms of a transition period and a future trade relationship.

Other key points in the terms proposed by the Britain were the status of EU citizens in Britain after the Brexit and the payments covering Britain's pending obligations to the EU and costs incurred by its withdrawal.