The Prime Minister has secured a deal with the EU to push Brexit negotiations to their next phase following an all-night diplomatic scramble.
In an early morning news conference in Brussels – after sharing breakfast with Theresa May – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker declared “sufficient progress” had now been achieved on initial divorce matters.
Hailing the agreement as the product of “compromise” from all sides, the EU boss paved the way for Brexit talks to now advance onto details of a transition period and the final post-Brexit EU-UK relationship.
Mr Juncker expressed confidence leaders of the 27 other EU member states would accept the agreement and therefore move to the second phase of negotiations at a Brussels summit next week.
The Prime Minister described the deal as “a hard-won agreement in all our interests”.
Standing alongside Mr Juncker at the news conference, Mrs May told reporters the agreement would guarantee the rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK.
These would be “enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts”, the Prime Minister said.
She added the so-called Brexit bill, which could be as much as £50bn, would be “fair to the British taxpayer” and also insisted the agreement offered a guarantee there would be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Moving on to the second phase of Brexit talks, which will include discussions on a transition period, will be welcomed by businesses.
They have warned the Prime Minister a lack of clarity about such a period before the end of the year might lead to them taking decisions that would see investment and jobs moving out of the UK.
There was no immediate backlash from Conservative Brexiteers on the terms of the deal.
Environment Secretary and Vote Leave architect Michael Gove said: “This is a significant achievement because it means the rights of EU citizens are protected in the UK, the rights of UK citizens are protected in the EU.
“We have an agreement that no EU country will be out of pocket as a result of our departure.
“But there will be more money for the NHS and for schools and for housing in this country as a result of our leaving the EU.
“And also we can now get on to talking about that free-trade deal.
“It’s a significant step forward and it’s one I think the overwhelming majority of people in Parliament and in the country will welcome.”
His fellow Cabinet Brexiteer and Vote Leave figurehead, Boris Johnson, praised Mrs May’s “determination in getting today’s deal”.
But, in an apparent warning to the Prime Minister, he insisted a future trade deal must remain “true to the referendum result” by “taking back control of our laws, money and borders for the whole of the UK”.
The deal was also welcomed by prominent Remain supporters on the Tory benches.
In a late night tweet, the Government’s Chief Whip, Julian Smith, made a pledge to Conservative MPs that he would ensure their opinions were listened to during the next phase of negotiations.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the deal would allow Mrs May to move on to “the next stage of humiliation” in Brexit talks.
A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 8, 2017
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, cautiously welcomed the agreement as “encouraging” but urged the Prime Minister to adopt a different approach to Brexit.
He said: “As the talks now move on to a discussion about Britain’s future relationship with the EU, Theresa May must seriously reflect on her approach to the negotiations so far.
“We cannot have another year of chaos and confusion or the farcical scenes we saw earlier on in the week that put jobs and the economy at risk.”
The Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary David Davis arrived in Brussels shortly before 6am on Friday, where they held a breakfast meeting with Mr Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
It followed an agreement being reached by Mrs May with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, who had rejected an initial draft agreement the Prime Minister had hoped to seal on Monday.
Mrs Foster told Sky News “substantial changes” to the text had been made to ensure Northern Ireland would leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.