Envoys hail Brexit progress but no Irish border breakthrough

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in front of the updated draft Brexit deal with the agreed parts in green

British and European Union negotiators have made "good progress" in talks, officials said on Monday, ahead of a crucial summit this week where London hopes to finally seal a deal on a post-Brexit transition period.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the agreement did little more than "paper over the cracks" between the two sides.

Its chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: "We will leave the European Union and leave the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy] but hand back sovereignty over our seas a few seconds later". "The backstop applies unless and until something better is agreed".

The draft agreement has to be approved by the remaining 27 European Union countries, which could take place at this Friday's summit.

The reaction from British businesses to Monday's announcement was mixed, with some business leaders expressed concerns that the transition agreement won't be legally binding until the final withdrawal treaty is signed early next year.

"We must have a workable and practical solution to avoid a hard border and protect north south cooperation", Barnier said.

After intense rounds of talks, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, said, "The agreement on the terms of the 21-month period, ending on December 31, 2020, was a significant moment, which would give businesses and citizens the reassurance they needed".

"But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland and therefore we will be engaged in detail on all the scenarios set out in the joint report", he stated. He hailed the certainty that the deals on the transition and other issues, including rights for expatriate citizens, would offer businesses and individuals.

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The agreement must now be agreed upon by the EU's 27 member states at the European Council summit later this week.

"We must seize the moment and carry forward the momentum of the last few weeks", Davis said.

The EU and the United Kingdom still have to continue discussions on several issues, including data protection, the circulation of products, as well as so-called governance issues - such as the role of the ECJ and Britain's participation in Euratom, Europol and Eurojust.

While the compromise agreement is not likely to please Hard Brexiters, it's thought likely that the Leave camp in the UK Parliament will be able to live with the deal.

But many European Union diplomats said they felt London had largely agreed to their terms on most issues because of May's political imperative to get a transition deal that may calm the fears of businesses contemplating moving investments out of Britain.

"Theresa the Appeaser has let the people down again", he said.

It will be "considerable work", Barnier retorted, in another show of the two men's - and the two sides - different approach to what remains to be done.

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