European leaders have given the green light for the second stage of Brexit talks to begin.
They agreed that talks can now begin on the UK’s exit process and a future trade deal at a meeting lasting less than half an hour.
The ruling also gives more details of the terms of the second stage Brexit process being laid down by Europe.
It makes clear that the UK is expected to remain fully compliant with EU rules during the transition period, but will not have any right to play a role in decisions.
Theresa May has applauded the breakthrough as “an important step on the road to delivering the smooth and orderly Brexit that people voted for” as she pledged “rapid progress” on transition talks.
She was congratulated by European Council President Donald Tusk after the EU approved the decision to move forward.
But he also warned it would be “dramatically difficult” to meet Mrs May’s target of an exit by 19 March 2019.
The decision by the EU27 to progress to trade talks was little more than a formality, after EC President Jean-Claude Juncker declared last week that “sufficient progress” had been made to move forward.
However, guidelines approved by the bloc at the meeting poured cold water on Brexiteers’ hopes for a quick trade deal.
The four-page text promises only work towards a “framework” for a trade deal, with a wait until March before guidelines for the way ahead are produced.
It leaves no doubt that a formal free trade agreement cannot be signed until after the UK has left.
They say that the UK will be expected to respect the four freedoms – including the free movement of people within the EU area – during a transition period expected to start from March 2019.
Britain will be required to follow the EU rulebook in its entirety, and must also abide by European Court of Justice decisions until it is comprehensively outside the bloc, it adds.