Business groups have given today's breakthrough in Brexit negotiations an unequivocal thumbs up - but stressed that the hard work is only just beginning.
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed that the deadlock over the Irish border, divorce bill and citizens rights had finally been broken this morning, allowing the EU side to grant "sufficient progress" had been made and opening up talks to the second phase.
This means both sides are finally able to discuss transition and trade - giving businesses a chink of much-needed certainty about the road ahead and alleviating some of the fear that the UK could simply crash out of the European Union without a deal in place.
Stephen Martin, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "It went right down to the wire, but businesses will be breathing a huge sigh of relief."
He added: "It doesn’t mean the hard work has all been done, far from it, but it does mean we are now very close to discussing transitional arrangements and our future trading relationship with the EU.
“The most pressing concern for UK companies has been their EU staff, who have urgently needed certainty about their future in this country. We have grounds to hope now that our members will be able to send their employees off for the Christmas break feeling more comfortable about their status here.
"We call on the UK and EU to build on this positive momentum going into the new year. It is overwhelmingly in the interests of both sides to begin working on our future economic relationship - particularly in order to fully address the Irish question. And we look forward to further clarity about what the UK's objectives are for that new relationship as well as a firm commitment on transition in the very near future.”
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Businesses will be breathing a sigh of relief that ‘sufficient progress’ has been achieved. After the noise and political brinksmanship of recent days, news of a breakthrough in the negotiations will be warmly welcomed by companies across the UK.
“Business will particularly cheer the mutual commitment to a transition period to support business confidence and trade, and will want the details confirmed swiftly in the new year when negotiators move on to the big questions around our future trade relationship with the EU.
“For business, a swift start to trade talks is crucial to upcoming investment and growth decisions. Companies all across the UK want absolute clarity on the long-term deal being sought, and want government to work closely with business experts to ensure that the details are right.
“Businesses want answers on what leaving the EU will mean for regulation, customs, hiring, standards, tariffs and taxes. The job of the UK government and the European Commission now is to provide those answers – and do everything in their power to ensure vibrant cross-border trade between the UK and EU countries can continue.”
Deputy director general of the CBI Josh Hardie said: “The breakthrough in Brussels shows that where there is a will, there is a way.
“Firms have been watching negotiations closely and today’s announcement will lift spirits in the run up to Christmas. Sufficient progress is a present they’ve spent months waiting for.
“It’s now time to focus on the true prize of a new relationship and a deal that starts from 40 years of economic integration. With the same willpower shown today and jobs and living standards at the heart of every negotiating objective, these talks can set the UK up for the next 40 years of close alignment.
“There are two things that are top of the list. First is the final step for those EU citizens working here, and U.K. citizens abroad. It must be unequivocal that they are welcome, whatever the final deal. This cannot be their second Christmas where their rights are dependent on negotiations. Next is transition. Concrete assurances will build confidence and help firms across the U.K. and Europe to pause their contingency planning.
“Above all, the Government has shown the impact of being determined to focus on securing a good Brexit for jobs. Discussions will continue to be tough, but today’s progress shows that careless talk of walking away can be replaced by confidence that the U.K. can get a good deal. Steely determination in the national interest must always come first.”
Conservative MPs were also relieved by the news.
Delighted a deal agreed in Brussels that paves way for further progress on talks about future UK/EU relationship. A positive step. Congratulations @theresa_may— Philip Hammond (@PhilipHammondUK) December 8, 2017
The Prime Minister has made important decisions in the national interest so we can move ahead to a successful EU exit. I am giving my full support https://t.co/vRrfAddMIL— Steve Baker MP (@SteveBakerHW) December 8, 2017
Although former MEP Roger Helmer was less enthusiastic:
Hmmm. “Regulatory convergence”. But it takes two to tango, and it takes (at least) two to converge. And when does “convergence” become “subservience”?— Roger Helmer (@RogerHelmerMEP) December 8, 2017
And his ex-boss Nigel Farage was sceptical
A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 8, 2017
And the EU's chief negotiator had this to say:
More to follow...