Declaration promises UK free trade and close security relationship

Negotiators agree extensive potential UK participation in EU programmes in areas such as science, education and overseas development

The UK has been promised a wide-ranging free trade agreement with the European Union, without tariffs or quotas, in a joint political declaration on their relationship after Brexit agreed between negotiators.

The 26-page declaration will be approved at an EU summit on Sunday alongside the much weightier and legally-binding withdrawal agreement. Ratification will then by sought from the House of Commons in London, the European parliament and other EU states.

The declaration, which also promises to largely maintain current levels of internal and external EU-UK security co-operation, also balances the free trade commitments with strong “level playing field” obligations to regulatory alignment insisted on by many EU states.

Despite UK prime minister Theresa May’s expressed hope, the declaration indicates that trade will be far from frictionless.


The declaration speaks of “an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic co-operation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of co-operation based on a balance of rights and obligations”.

In a Twitter post, European Council president Donald Tusk said: "I have just sent to EU27 a draft political declaration on the future relationship between EU and UK. The commission president has informed me that it has been agreed at negotiators' level and agreed in principle at political level, subject to the endorsement of the leaders."

Customs fraud

The declaration pledges to administrative co-operation in customs matters and mutual assistance, including for the recovery of claims and the exchange of information to combat customs fraud and other illegal activity.

It promises particularly close collaboration on food and agricultural product movements, stating: “The parties should treat one another as single entities as regards to and phytosanitary measures, including for certification purposes, and recognise regionalisation on the basis of appropriate epidemiological information provided by the exporting party.”

And the declaration recommits to both Northern Ireland peace funding and to protecting the Belfast Agreement “in all its parts”.

The declaration reiterates the long-standing EU red line that British access to European markets will only be offered on the basis of “open and fair competition”.

To gain a close economic relationship the UK would have to respect EU standards on competition, tax, environment, as well as social and employment protection.

The declaration provides for extensive potential UK participation in EU programmes in areas such as science and innovation, culture and education, overseas development and external action, defence capabilities, civil protection and space. “These should include a fair and appropriate financial contribution,” the paper says.

Six months

The EU and UK pledge to convene a high-level conference at least every six months after withdrawal “to take stock of progress and agree, as far as is possible between them, actions to move forward”.

The day-to-day implementation of the agreement would be through a joint committee and where necessary if deadlocked binding arbitration.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times