The Council, meeting in an EU27 format, was informed by the Commission’s Brexit chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, about the most recent talks with the UK, including his meeting with UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab. During the meeting, Michel Barnier explained that despite intense negotiating efforts, some key issues remain open, in particular the backstop to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Ministers discussed the state of negotiations and the way ahead in preparation for the summit of EU27 heads of state and government which will take place the following day. During the meeting, ministers reiterated their willingness to continue working towards a deal and reconfirmed their trust in the negotiator. However they also underlined the need to be prepared for all eventualities.
We are now entering a very crucial phase of intensive negotiations concerning Brexit. The main focus and concern, as Presidency, is to keep the unity of the EU27. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier has our continued support.
Gernot Blümel, Austrian Federal Minister for the EU, Art, Culture and Media
All the withdrawal issues need to be covered in the withdrawal agreement, which should be agreed in good time to be ratified before the withdrawal date of 29 March 2019.
An agreement on a future relationship can only be negotiated and concluded once the UK has become a third country. However, an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship will be set out in a political declaration accompanying and referred to in the withdrawal agreement.