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European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier holds a press conference at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Parliament urged EU leaders on Wednesday to allow the next phase of Brexit negotiations to start, backing a motion that recognised the talks had advanced sufficiently as a well a line criticising Britain's lead negotiator David Davis.

European Union leaders are almost certain to judge on Friday that "sufficient progress" has been made on the rights of citizens, the Brexit divorce bill and the Irish border to allow negotiations to move to the next phase. The EU executive recommended last week that leaders approve the start of trade talks.

The European Parliament will have to approve any Brexit deal, although its motion on Wednesday, backed by 556 votes for to 62 against, was not binding.

The EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told lawmakers the next phase of talks would focus on a "short and defined" transition period and initial discussions on a future relationship. Future talks, he said, would be no less difficult.

"They are tough, very tough because the issues are extremely complicated and because the consequences of Brexit are very serious," he said, adding that British Prime Minister Theresa May was "courageous" and deserved respect.

Nigel Farage of the anti-EU UKIP party called her "Theresa the appeaser" and said she had yielded on virtually everything.

Barnier stressed that Britain could not renege on commitments made to ensure the talks moved on.

The agreement presented in a joint report last Friday was, in the view of some in Brussels, undermined by Davis's comment that it was more "a statement of intent" than legally binding. Davis has subsequently said he wants the accord swiftly translated into a legal text.

"We will not accept any going back on this joint report. This progress has been agreed and will be rapidly translated into a withdrawal accord that is legally binding in all three areas and on some others that remain to be negotiated," Barnier said.

A lot more steps were required to secure an orderly withdrawal, he added.

"We are not at the end of the road, neither regarding citizens' rights nor for the other subjects of the orderly withdrawal. We remain vigilant," Barnier told the parliament.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Reuters