European diplomats in London welcomed news from Brussels that sufficient progress had been made to proceed with phase two talks on the transition and future relationship.
Irish Ambassador Adrian O’Neil Tweeted: “A very satisfactory outcome to phase 1. Plenty of hard work to be done in the next phase on the transition/implementation and the future relationship between the EU and the UK. But today is a good day for all concerned.”
Privately EU diplomats in London expressed admiration for the skill of Irish diplomacy in phase one. “The Irish were very clever to escalate the border issue, and this will now have an impact on the negotiations in phase 2.”
One EU commercial attaché told Embassy regulatory alignment was a “predictable outcome” and that a soft Brexit was now “the most logical solution” for a soft Irish border.
However, diplomats remain unclear about the future relationship Britain intends to have with the EU. “We will need to get clarity, sooner rather than later,” one envoy told Embassy.
Prime Minister May’s defeat in Parliament over the EU Withdrawal Bill and giving Parliament the final say on the Brexit deal may complicate matters. “It’s likely she will have to make more concessions and that may make it harder for her to come to an agreed position.”
Diplomats were also hoping for a clear commitment that what was agreed in the first phase would be fully respected. “We were concerned by comments by David Davis, but we hope this has now been rectified.”
On citizens rights, consuls were pleased with commitments to simplify the process of acquiring settled status but still had some concerns. “Our sense is that the British authorities are genuine in their intensions to assist EU citizens,” said one EU consul general. “However the devil will be in the detail. Using simple online application system is a great idea, but we are worried this will exclude the older members of the community who do not use the internet, who prefer paper-based systems.
“We are also worried about those who are not on any of the government databases that will be used to check the length of residency, such as HMRC or employment records, because there will be those – housewives for instance – who are not on any of these databases.”
Consuls were reassured that although UK courts will preside over enforcing rights over EU citizens in Britain, they can refer unclear cases to the European court of justice for eight years after withdrawal. “This we feel is a satisfactory protection against the moving of goal posts in immigration legislation.”
In its guidelines for the next stage of the talks, Brussels has said the UK must accept all EU rules and regulations, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, during any two year transition period.
The EU document said the UK must continue to accept the free movement of people if it wants to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union during transition. EU leaders also confirmed talks on the future trade deal will not begin until March 2018.