The UK Brexit negotiation secretary, David Davis, claims to have struck a deal on the terms of the Brexit transition period, having made several concessions and accepting a last resort plan to keep Northern Ireland under EU law to avoid border problems with the epublic of Ireland.
Davis said that agreement on the terms of the preliminary period that ends on December 31st 2020, would give businesses and citizens reassurance.
The UK will retain the benefits of the single market and customs union for nearly two years, but will not be able to join the EU decision making process.
The British government has accepted defeat on several demands, including on the prime minister’s insistence that citizens arriving during the transition period would be treated differently to those already settled in the UK.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said, “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.”
Barnier added that the UK had agreed that for Northern Ireland, a default solution will be kept to avoid a hard border so the north and south of Ireland can remain in alignment.
May previously had insisted that no British prime minister could sign a document that included a clause that could “threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea.”
With the Irish question threatening to hold up any agreement on the transition period, a deal, has been struck, said Barnier.
Davis commented, “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 engage in detail on all the scenarios set out in the joint report.”
Writing in The Independent, former chief negotiator in Northern Ireland, Jonathan Powell, commented, "Theresa May has therefore committed the worst possible sin a negotiator can commit. She has boxed herself in. She may hope that she can again fudge the issue, by pretending the border is soft rather than hard. But the fudge doesn’t work anymore."
The UK also has caved in over the Michael Gove demand for a renegotiation of fishing quotas during of the transition period. Brussels has given an assurance that the UK will be ‘consulted’ on the total size of catches. This result is the opposite of that promised by Michael Gove.
The government’s desire to hold a veto on any new EU legislation that could damage the British economy, also has been kicked out. A joint committee will be set up to “resolve concerns” with both sides acting in “good faith.”
The UK has won the right to opt in to justice and home affairs legislation and to opt out of foreign policy decisions.
Barnier confirmed that Gibraltar would not be covered by the transition deal unless Spain and the UK come to an agreement on its future.
Campaigners for Britons in Europe expressed concern about the draft withdrawal deal.
“Barnier and Davis may be saying they are close to an agreement, but that agreement does not include EU citizens in the UK or Britons in Europe,” said Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe.
She pointed out the draft excludes any reference to their continued right to freedom of movement to enable cross-border commuting or provision of services in another country or to people in another country.
“As things stand, after Brexit English cheddar will have more free movement rights than we will,” said Golding. EU citizens in the UK are also in the dark on family reunification rights allowing future spouses or children to live lawfully in the UK.
“Jane Golding, Chair of British in Europe said, ‘Contrary to what David Davis and Michel Barnier are saying, this document provides no more certainty for the 1.2 million British people living in the EU 27, EEA and Switzerland, than they had this morning.
“Not only does the text look as though it has been rushed out under pressure but in his statement, Mr Barnier once again said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, meaning there will not be legal certainty for the 4.6 million people most directly affected by Brexit until the agreement is finally signed off.
“Furthermore, it seems that Article 32 - which covered restrictions to our future cross border working rights and free movement - has now vanished. And yet, it is still referred to in other parts of the text.
“So, while we are pleased that this restrictive provision has been removed, we are confused and nervous about what might replace it. And we should not read too much into the article’s removal, as neither does it change the substance of the agreement nor mean that we have suddenly been allowed to keep free movement. In fact, the agreement is as clear as mud when it comes to our future rights to move and work across the EU, either as people falling under the Withdrawal Agreement or as third country nationals.
“With 80% of British people living on the continent working age or younger, free movement and its associated cross border economic rights are a necessity not a 'nice to have' for many. Small business owners including IT consultants, caterers and musicians all rely on it in order to provide for themselves and their families now, and after Brexit.
“As things stand, after Brexit English cheddar will have more free movement rights than we will.
“As such, any withdrawal agreement will not provide certainty or security for UK nationals living in Europe until we know for sure that it includes guarantees on free movement and cross border working.”
For a view on Brexit from the Welsh perspective, see 'Wales and Brexit' by Emyr Lewis