Deal between EU and UK is ‘a landmark moment’, says Barnier

EU ambassadors to begin process of calling a special summit to approve the deal

 Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator, gives a press briefing in Brussels as the British cabinet  backed the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement. Photograph: EPA/ Olivier Hoslet

Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator, gives a press briefing in Brussels as the British cabinet backed the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement. Photograph: EPA/ Olivier Hoslet


The deal between the EU and UK on the withdrawal agreement represents “decisive progress”, both European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Wednesday night.

EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels earlier had agreed to trigger the process of calling a special summit, probably on Sunday, November 25th, to approve the deal. Meetings of ministers and various Brexit groups as well as prime ministerial representatives will convene in the next few days to prepare that summit.

Mr Barnier will meet European Council president Donald Tusk on Thursday morning to set that process in train.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday night, Mr Barnier said the deal was the result of very intense discussions over 17 months and was a landmark moment in the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It was a detailed document that would provide juridical security to the process.

But there remained much to do on the long and difficult road ahead.

On the northern backstop he said they had moved significantly towards a position based on UK proposals and that the deal would copperfasten the frictionless border in Ireland.

The draft withdrawal agreement, running to 580 pages, 185 articles, three protocols and many pages of annexes, is the text of a legally binding treaty that, if ratified, will seal the terms under which the UK leaves the EU.

Its provisions, defining outstanding obligations and establishing a transition period in which both sides can adjust, include dividing up common property, securing the rights of each others’ citizens “left behind” and agreeing a departure bill or alimony for the UK.

And, crucially, a special protocol on Northern Ireland provides a backstop guarantee that will safeguard Ireland’s soft border, guarantees continued security co-operation, protects the Common Travel Area and safeguards both human rights and the 50-odd cross-Border programmes that have come out of the Belfast Agreement. Safeguarding the Belfast Agreement is explicitly provided for.

The agreement will now have to be ratified by member states, the European Council, the European parliament and the UK parliament before Britain leaves the EU on March 29th.

Trade relations

In the months ahead the two sides will start to negotiate a treaty on their future relationship, focusing largely on trade relations, a relationship that has been sketched out in a draft common political declaration that will be approved, but without binding force, at the same time as the withdrawal agreement.

The basis of a future partnership, Mr Barnier said, would be a free market, unfettered by tariffs and quotas based on a regulatory level playing field.

Mr Barnier insisted that the political declaration, a document of some six pages, was the fruit of the merging of both parties’ positions. In the end it was a common, agreed road map for the future.

The withdrawal agreement provides that Britain will honour all its financial commitments to Brussels under an agreed formula which is widely but conservatively estimated to put the bill at some €40 billion. London will continue to pay into the EU budget during transition until the end of 2020 as if still a member.

The agreement upholds the existing EU residence and social security rights of more than three million EU citizens in the UK, and about one million UK nationals living on the continent.

The settlement allows an EU national to claim permanent residence in the UK, retain most family reunion rights enjoyed today and, if eligible, to claim UK benefits even if they or their children move overseas.

Protecting those rights, the UK promises to pay “due regard” to the jurisprudence and rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. But the UK will not be bound by it.

Transition period

The treaty provides for a transition period for the UK until the end of 2020, which can be extended by mutual agreement for an unspecified one-off period. During this period Britain would leave the political institutions of the EU, losing its say over rules and decisions. But it would continue to apply EU law in full. Little will change for businesses and citizens during that period.

And during that time the future relationship agreement – the successor to the backstop – will be negotiated.

Mr Barnier said a crucial stage had been reached “in this extraordinary negotiation” but there was still a lot of work to be done.

“The path is still long and [it] may well be difficult” to achieve an orderly withdrawal and an “ambitious and sustainable partnership”, he warned. He indicated it could be possible to agree a final trade deal within the transition period – although it was possible for that period to be extended.

“I don’t think that these agreements will need as much time as were needed for other trade agreements with countries which were much further away in regulatory terms, in terms of standards, and also geographically,” he said. “I think that it is feasible to construct the essentials of this future partnership within this short transition period, because we have got the basis.”

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