The atmosphere emanating from Brussels has, at times, felt as frosty as the recent inclement weather when it comes to Britain leaving the European Union, so the importance of the news that the UK and the EU have reached an agreement on a transition deal shouldn’t be underestimated.
Brexit Secretary David Davis called the agreement a “significant step” following talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and, while they won’t be breaking open the champagne just yet, there will undoubtedly be a collective sigh of relief in both Downing Street and Brussels.
Crucially, it means that talks can finally begin on the future trade relationship between the two sides and at the same time it allows the UK to negotiate and ratify trade deals outside the EU following the start of the transition period in March next year.
Under the terms of the agreement it also means that EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period – as well as Britons settling on the continent – will have the same rights as those in place before Brexit day.
All this still has to be approved by EU leaders when they meet later this week but, given the painstaking efforts it has taken to reach this stage, it would be nonsensical to throw a spanner in the works at such a critical juncture.
However, the hard work is far from over. There are still key issues that need to be resolved and none more so than the vexed question of the Northern Ireland border, which will take some unpicking.
Nevertheless, after so much prevaricating this feels like genuine progress and credit must be given to Mr Davis and his negotiating team as well as to his EU counterparts.
As Michel Barnier rightly points out this is “not the end of the road”, but at least the lights are on green and, with spring finally upon us, there is at last cause for cautious optimism.