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On 23 March 2018 the European Council adopted the new guidelines for the next phase of the negotiations on the framework for future relations between the EU and the UK (Phase 3 of the EU-UK negotiations).
A solution to the problem of how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remained an outstanding issue for this phase of the negotiations.
The European Council would assess progress in ongoing issues and the framework for future relations at the June 2018 summit.
In addition to the Northern Ireland / Ireland border issue, the areas of disagreement centred around:
+ Mutual recognition as a viable mechanism by which to govern future UK-EU trade and cooperation in both goods and services (specifically, financial services), recognition of UK workers’ rights; environmental protection, and social standards as guaranteeing a ‘level playing field’.
+ Data protection: the EU wanted unilateral ‘adequacy’ rulings, while the UK wanted a ‘firmer’ solution.
+ Agency participation: the UK was willing to sign up to all EU rules and institutional enforcement in order to remain a party to certain EU agencies. The EU so far appeared to be ruling out agency participation for non-Member States. But some EU agencies explicitly allowed for third party status.
+ Dispute settlement: UK wanted an arbitration system; EU said a dispute settlement system must respect the depth of the partnership and the autonomy of the CJEU.
For a complete timeline of the Brexit negotiations see the ESO In Focus: The United Kingdom and the European Union.
The European Union and the UK announced on the 19 March 2018 that progress had been reached on the negotiations for the UK to leave the EU by the publication of a Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community.
The draft Withdrawal Agreement included agreed legal text for the implementation period from March 2019 until the end of 2020, citizens’ rights, and the financial settlement, as well as a significant number of other articles. The UK and the EU negotiating teams aimed to finalise the entire Withdrawal Agreement by October 2018. There was still no final agreement on an arrangement for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland
There had been pressure to reach agreement on this draft text of the agreement to rule EU-UK relations during the implementation period before the European Council, 22-23 March 2018. The Article 50 (EU27) format of the European Council was due to review the state of the Brexit negotiations and formally adopt the negotiating guidelines for EU-UK relations after the end of the implementation period from 2021.
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