LONDON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Britain and the European Union struck a divorce deal on Friday that paves the way for talks on trade, easing pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May and boosting hopes of an orderly Brexit.
British business groups broadly welcomed the progress and urged swift progress towards a formal transition agreement that would preserve existing trading relations until a new deal is struck.
BRITISH CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE DIRECTOR GENERAL ADAM MARSHALL
"Businesses will be breathing a sigh of relief that 'sufficient progress' has been achieved. After the noise and political brinksmanship of recent days, news of a breakthrough in the negotiations will be warmly welcomed by companies.
"Business will particularly cheer the mutual commitment to a transition period to support business confidence and trade, and will want the details confirmed swiftly in the new year.
"For business, a swift start to trade talks is crucial to upcoming investment and growth decisions. Companies all across the UK want absolute clarity on the long-term deal being sought, and want government to work closely with business experts to ensure that the details are right."
CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH INDUSTRY DEPUTY DIRECTOR GENERAL JOSH HARDIE
"Today's announcement will lift spirits in the run-up to Christmas. Sufficient progress is a present (businesses) have spent months waiting for.
"It's now time to focus on the true prize of a new relationship and a deal that starts from 40 years of economic integration.
"There are two things that are top of the list. First is the final step for those EU citizens working here, and UK citizens abroad. It must be unequivocal that they are welcome, whatever the final deal. This cannot be their second Christmas where their rights are dependent on negotiations.
"Next is transition. Concrete assurances will build confidence and help firms across the UK and Europe to pause their contingency planning."
TheCityUK FINANCIAL SERVICES TRADE BODY CEO MILES CELIC
"This agreement in principle between the UK and the EU to move beyond phase one is a positive and encouraging step.
"For the financial and related professional services industry, our critical issues must now be progressed.
"The sand in the timer is running out - leave it too late and damage will be done to both the UK and the EU. European competitiveness will ultimately be weakened as functionality will likely leave Europe for other international financial centers.
"Given the dominance of services to both the British and EU economies, it is essential that a Free Trade Agreement covers goods and services, and is based on mutual recognition and regulatory cooperation. This will be in the best interests of the UK, the EU27 and for global stability. It is also vital that existing services contracts can be grandfathered post-Brexit."
EEF MANUFACTURERS' ASSOCIATION CHIEF EXECUTIVE STEPHEN PHIPSON
"This is one step forward in a complex and long process. So we need to pin down the transition arrangements, which will be in place after March 2019, to ensure it's business as usual for companies for as long as it takes until a final deal is reached. Until we get to that point, many businesses will need to prepare for any and every eventuality."
"Many employers will be relieved that their EU employees have more certainty going forward, and government must now clarify the rights of EU citizens by Christmas so that they are not concerned about their future."
FEDERATION OF SMALL BUSINESSES NATIONAL CHAIRMAN MIKE CHERRY
"The UK's millions of small businesses will be pleased to hear that finally it appears the Brexit talks are about to move onto the second stage.
"The focus must now shift to the UK's future trading relationship with the EU. This should include by early next year a guarantee that there will be no cliff-edge moment on Brexit day, but instead an orderly, time-limited transition period so that small firms only have one set of rule changes. The final deal must have as few barriers to trade as possible." (Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)