European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier speaks during a press briefing at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on Nov. 14, 2018. The European Union (EU) and Britain have made decisive steps to end Brexit negotiations, said Michel Barnier Wednesday, sending a clear signal for an upcoming special summit later this month. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
BRUSSELS, Nov. 14 -- The European Union (EU) and Britain have made decisive steps to end Brexit negotiations, said the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier Wednesday, sending a clear signal for an upcoming special summit later this month.
"We have reached a crucial stage, an important moment in this extraordinary negotiation," said Barnier in a press conference conveyed shortly after Britain's cabinet approved the draft Brexit deal.
The progress is the result of very intensive negotiations stretching back 17 months, said Barnier, adding that "We are at an important moment in this extraordinary negotiation," he said.
On citizen's rights, Barnier noted that the draft deal ensures that "those EU citizens who live in the UK and UK citizens who live in the EU will be able to live their lives as before."
As to the Northern Island border issue, Barnier said the solution for avoiding a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland meets four key conditions: protecting the Good Friday agreement; preserving the integrity of EU single market and Ireland's place in it; respecting Britain's territorial integrity and constitutional order; and preserving Britain-Ireland common travel area.
Compromises reached in the final stages would ensure that there would be no hard border in Ireland, with a "backstop" plan included in the agreement which would place entire Britain into a customs union with the EU, Mr Barnier said.
Talking about the transition period, Barnier admitted that the only thing not specified in the deal is the length of a possible extension to the transition period.
Commenting on the future relationship between Britain and the EU, Barnier said "the United Kingdom will remain our friend, our partner, our ally."
But "There remains a lot of work to do ... I know that the way ahead is still long and perhaps difficult to guarantee an orderly withdrawal, and to build a "durable" future partnership, he said.
Prior to Barnier's press conference in Brussels, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday night that the cabinet has given its backing to her Brexit deal.
May delivered her message outside 10 Downing Street after an emergency meeting of her cabinet that overran by more than two hours.
She acknowledged the difficulties facing the government and the country over Brexit, adding: "I firmly believe with my head and my heart that this is a decision that is in the best interests of the whole United Kingdom," she said.
May said she will make a full statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.
Political observers are now waiting to see if any of her dissenting ministers have quit.
The next 24 hours could also determine whether May could face a vote of no confidence among her Conservative ranks in the House of Commons.