EU leaders have today agreed to move on to the next phase in Brexit negotiations with the UK. The first issue to be discussed, early next year, will be the details of an expected two-year transition period after the UK's exit in March 2019.
Talks on trade and security co-operation are set to follow in March.
Labour MEPs for the North East of England, Paul Brannen and Jude Kirton-Darling, commented on the news:
Paul Brannen MEP said: "Today marks an important step in the Brexit process as the negotiations move forward to the second round. EU officials predict these talks will be ‘significantly harder’ which is a fair expectation considering the large number of highly intricate matters that will need to be brought to the table.
"Bearing in mind how difficult and slow the first round of negotiations proved to be for this divided Tory government we can expect the next few months to be even more gruelling.
"That the UK will be staying in the single market and the customs union during the transitional period is welcome news, as Labour has been arguing hard for this to happen. This paves the way for Labour to make the case for this situation to continue post-Brexit to ensure the economy of the North East does not suffer and no jobs are lost."
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP added: "Brexit negotiations will move forward to the next stage, but the UK government still needs to provide further clarity. The deal is not finalised yet and we need a strong guarantee, especially with regards to citizens’ rights.
"The EU has pushed for the UK to remain part of single market and customs union arrangements during the transitional period, which is absolutely the right thing to do so we aren’t faced with a cliff-edge departure. This, along with freedom of movement and no hard borders, must be respected beyond March 2019 and Labour MEPs will continue to campaign for this.
"The next round of talks between the negotiators will be even more difficult than the first one as it will tackle the very complex issue of trade after Brexit - the way the Tories have handled it up to this point simply isn’t acceptable."