Negotiators from the European Union and Britain have hailed major progress in the Brexit talks, but conceded there had been no breakthrough on keeping open the Irish border.
Britain is due to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019, but Brexit talks must be concluded by later this year to leave national parliaments in the bloc time to ratify any deal.
The border between EU member state Ireland and Britain’s territory Northern Ireland issue is central to an agreement but negotiators are struggling to find a way to keep people, goods and services flowing while respecting EU controls.
“We have travelled a large section of the path toward an orderly withdrawal,” EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said.
He said that negotiators had agreed on “a large part of what would constitute” the draft international legal agreement governing Britain’s departure.
He said the two sides have also reached an agreement on a transition period to help ease Britain out of the EU once it officially leaves on March 29, 2019.
Mr Barnier said the period would end on December 31, 2020.
Alongside him, British envoy David Davis said the progress made is a “significant step” toward a final deal.
Mr Davis said he is confident that the draft legal text the sides have prepared will be endorsed by European Union leaders when they meet on Thursday and Friday.
If they do, the sides can begin discussing a future trade agreement, although it cannot take effect until Britain is gone.
Both sides agreed to intensify talks to keep people, goods and services moving across the Irish border.