The European Council has published its guidelines following the UK’s Article 50 notification. It notes the uncertainty that Brexit will mean for individuals and businesses in the UK and the rest of the EU and says the Union will maintain its unity throughout the exit negotiations and will “act as one” with the aim of reaching a result which is fair and equitable for all Member States. The Council says it wants the UK as a close partner but reiterates any agreement will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and notes in particular that preserving the integrity of the single market excludes participation on a sector-by-sector approach. It goes on to say individual items cannot be settled separately and also stresses there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the UK on matters relevant to the UK’s withdrawal. Negotiations will take a phased approach, and the Council says an agreement on a future relationship between the UK and EU can only be finalised once the UK has left and become a third country – but Article 50 requires a discussion of the relationship, and so there should be an understanding of what it is likely to be during the second phase of negotiations. There may also be transitional arrangements.
Negotiations will treat the rights of citizens as first priority and has also indicated its willingness to initiate work on a strong free trade agreement that falls short of the (impossible) Single Market.
Finally, the document notes that both Spain and the UK must agree on any agreement between the EU and the UK post-Brexit that would apply to Gibraltar.