UK makes series of concessions to Brussels to strike agreement but more work needed on issues including the Irish border
The UK has struck a deal on the terms of the Brexit transition period after making a series of concessions to Brussels and accepting the “back stop” plan of keeping Northern Ireland under EU law to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
After an intense few days of talks, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, said agreement on the terms of the 21-month period, ending on 31 December 2020, was a “significant” moment, which would give businesses and citizens the reassurance they needed.
The UK will retain the benefits of the single market and customs union for “near enough to the two years we asked for”, Davis said, albeit while losing its role in any decision-making institutions.
However, the British government has had to accept defeat on a series of demands, including on the prime minister’s very public insistence that citizens arriving during the transition period would be treated differently to those already in the UK.
“British citizens and European citizens of the 27 who arrive during the transition period will receive the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before the day of Brexit,” said the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, during a joint press conference on the publication of the latest draft of the withdrawal agreement.
Most contentiously, Barnier said that the UK had agreed that in relation to Northern Ireland the withdrawal agreement would retain a default solution to avoiding a hard border under which the north and south of the island of Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment.
After the publication of the last draft of the agreement, including that back stop, May had insisted that no British prime minister could sign up to a text including such a proposition.
The EU and Ireland had insisted, in turn, that the “back stop” option was simply the translation of an agreement struck in a joint report between the UK and the European commission in December.
The December report suggested that regulatory alignment would be necessary if either a future trade deal or a bespoke technological solution failed to offer the same advantage of avoiding a hard border.
With the issue threatening to stall agreement on the transition period, a deal, however had been struck, Barnier told reporters.
“We agree today that the back stop solution must form part of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement”, he said.
Davis added: “Make no mistake, both the United Kingdom and the European Union are committed to the joint report in its entirety and in keeping with that commitment we agree on the need to include legal text detailing the back stop solution for the border of Northern Ireland and Ireland in the withdrawal agreement that is acceptable to both sides.
“But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland and therefore we will engaged in detail on all the scenarios set out in the joint report.”
The UK insists that despite accepting that a back stop on maintaining regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be included in the final withdrawal agreement, it has not accepted the current wording proposed by the EU.