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Britain and EU agree on transition plan as Brexit talks continue

LONDON — British and European Union negotiators agreed Monday on the terms of a 21-month transition period to keep Britain inside Europe’s economic structures and to avoid an economically damaging “cliff edge” departure when the country quits the bloc next March.

The deal, however, depends on a broader agreement on Britain’s withdrawal, due to be finalized this year, which is by no means certain.

One of the main sticking points in those talks is the effort to avoid creating a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which will remain in the European Union.

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The transition accord was announced Monday at a news conference in Brussels by David Davis, Britain’s main negotiator, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, who described it as a “decisive step” toward an orderly withdrawal, or Brexit.

To achieve the accord, the British government retreated from an earlier pledge and conceded that EU citizens who arrived in Britain during the transition period would have the same rights as those already in the country.

This year, Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that the rights of those newcomers would be “different.”

Talk in Britain about quitting the EU’s fisheries policy next year has also evaporated, with May accepting that the standstill transition meant full compliance with current rules.

Even so, Barnier made it clear that the transition agreement could not be considered legally binding until after ratification of a wider agreement on withdrawal, which negotiators hope to reach in the fall. Among other issues, it would set out how the two sides intend to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

EU leaders are expected to endorse plans for the transition when they meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, clearing the way for detailed talks on a future trade relationship.

Even though it is not legally binding, the transition agreement is seen as important for May’s government, which has been eager to offer assurances to businesses to help mitigate uncertainty over Brexit.

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