The European Union's leaders are due to say Friday that the Brexit talks with Britain can move on to the next phase to include the key topic of trade, according to a draft statement seen by The Associated Press.
The progress comes after the sides reached a deal on the preliminary divorce issues, such as the status of Britain's physical border with EU member Ireland. The EU had long said it wanted a deal on Britain's exit terms before broadening the talks to include the subject of future relations.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will address EU leaders at a two-day summit on Thursday evening and welcome progress in the Brexit talks. But she is not expected to remain in Brussels on Friday when the leaders give the green light to broaden the negotiations.
The draft statement says that progress made in Brexit talks ``is sufficient to move to the second phase'' to discuss future relations and trade.
In the statement, which could be modified before Friday, the leaders emphasize the importance of organizing a transition period, probably of around two years, to ease Britain out of the EU from 2019.
That would buy time for all sides. Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019 but the Brexit negotiations must be wrapped up by the fall of 2018 to leave time for individual EU parliaments to endorse any agreement.
During a transition period, Britain will have no seat at the EU's table, no lawmakers in the European Parliament, and no judges in the bloc's courts. But it will still be bound by European law, without having any say in decision-making, and the European Court of Justice will remain the final arbiter of any disputes.
Britain during this period "will no longer participate in or nominate or elect members of the EU institutions, nor participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies," the draft statement says.
Ahead of the summit, Britain's chief Brexit negotiator said Thursday that a situation in which the U.K. crashes out of the EU without a deal has become "massively less probable" because of a preliminary agreement reached last week.
Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers that a "no-deal" Brexit was now extremely unlikely, although "we continue to prepare for all outcomes."
The British government is hailing progress in Brussels, but faces trouble at home over Brexit. Late on Wednesday, lawmakers won a House of Commons vote giving Parliament the final say on any deal with the EU.