I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 127 together.
Based on the additional Guidelines on the Article 50 negotiations adopted by the European Council on 15 December 2017, work during phase 2 of the negotiations will initially focus on three areas: completing work on the withdrawal issues and on drafting the Withdrawal Agreement; transitional arrangements; and preparatory work for discussions on the future EU-UK relationship, which it is hoped can start in the spring.
Work at EU level on all three of these distinct areas has been proceeding at official level through the relevant preparatory bodies in Brussels. I have scheduled weekly meetings with my officials, and often discuss the issues with them between those meetings, and am in any case kept continually updated of issues as they develop.
At a political level, EU27 Ministers met at the General Affairs Council (Art. 50) on 29 January. I was unable to travel on account of other pressing business and Ireland was represented by the Minister of State, Helen McEntee. Michel Barnier updated Ministers on the overall state of play of negotiations and Ministers also adopted supplementary negotiating directives, mandating the European Commission Taskforce to open negotiations with the UK on a transitional arrangement.
I welcome that the EU is proposing a status quo transitional arrangement after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Such an arrangement will provide certainty and limit disruption for our citizens and businesses. Under such an arrangement the UK will be expected to continue to apply the full EU acquis.
As concerns the duration of such a transition, the Government agrees that in the interests of long term certainty, and to accelerate agreement on the future relationship agreement, it must be time bound. This is the overall view of both the EU and of the UK. Therefore a date of 31 December 2020 has been set for the end of the transition period. But equally, as the negotiations progress, the overriding objective on both sides must be to avoid any gaps and any cliff edge effects. It is therefore welcome that the General Affairs Council agreed to keep the Directives in all their aspects under constant review, taking account of developments in the Brexit negotiations. This provides the flexibility required.