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EU and Britain agree to draft on post-Brexit ties

London

THE European Union (EU) and Britain on Thursday agreed to a draft declaration laying out plans for "ambitious, broad, deep and flexible" relations after Brexit, setting the stage for the divorce to be finalised at a weekend summit.

EU Council president Donald Tusk said that the 26-page declaration, outlining how Britain will work with the bloc on trade, security, the environment and other issues, had been agreed "in principle" and would now be sent to the remaining 27 member states for approval.

The pound leapt by about one per cent against the US dollar and also firmed against the euro on news of the declaration, struck after through-the-night talks between British and EU negotiators.

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Britain's embattled Prime Minister Theresa May hopes the declaration will convince sceptical lawmakers to approve her vision for the UK's departure from the bloc.

She was due to make a statement to Parliament later in the day.

"This is the right deal for the UK," she said after updating her Cabinet on the text. "The British people want this to be settled. They want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future. That deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it."

A special summit of all 28 EU leaders to sign the final Brexit deal is planned for Sunday, with Mrs May set to travel to Brussels the night before to finalise preparations.

First, the texts must be cleared by a meeting of top EU diplomats - the summit's so-called "sherpas" - on Friday.

According to the political declaration, future ties will be wide-ranging, covering economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence.

In an update of the withdrawal agreement, both sides have agreed that the post-Brexit transition period may be extended from its current end date of Dec 31, 2020 "for up to one or two years".

The transition period is designed to allow governments and businesses to adjust to a new relationship after more than four decades of close ties.

Crucially, both sides note their "determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement".

But the declaration does not deal with the vexed issues of fishing and Gibraltar, the British territory that sits on an outcrop of southern Spain. AFP