Brexit deal ‘within our grasp’, May insists after EU-UK political declaration

A Brexit deal is “within our grasp”, Theresa May said on Thursday (22 November) after negotiators concluded a political declaration on what EU-UK relations should look like post-Brexit.

The 26-page blueprint, which will accompany the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, sets out broad guidelines for future EU-UK relations after Brexit. Following a week of intensive discussions between EU and UK officials it is much longer than the  seven-page summary published last week. Unlike the Withdrawal Agreement, it is not legally binding.

The 585-page draft Brexit agreement in a nutshell

The European Union has published on Wednesday (14 November) the 585-page draft Brexit deal aimed at ensuring a smooth divorce next March and outlining a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.

It was immediately welcomed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May who described it as “the right deal for the UK.”

“It delivers on the vote of the referendum. It brings back control of our borders, our money and our laws, and it does so while protecting jobs, protecting our security and protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom.”

A “deal is within our grasp, and I am determined to deliver it,” May added.

The text offers the prospect of an ambitious free trade deal but falls short of offer frictionless trade. There is there is a commitment on goods trade to be negotiated as “a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

However, the commitments do not go as far as May’s July Chequers proposal on for a common set of rules that would  effectively allow the UK to remain in the EU Single Market for goods.

End of free movement 

A specific reference to the end of free movement is now part of the text, a nod to one of the UK’s key demands. Instead the declaration states that the UK and the EU “should establish mobility arrangements… based on non-discrimination.”

However, visa-free travel for short term visits is set to remain post-Brexit.

But elsewhere, several of May’s famous ‘red lines’ appear to have been breached.

The document contains several explicit references to the continuing role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the interpretation of EU law, specifically providing a “binding ruling” on questions of interpreting EU law.

In regard to fisheries, meanwhile, another flash point of concern especially to France and Denmark, as well as the UK, the declaration remains vague in regard of access to territorial waters.

The text states that “within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.”

The May government argues that it has avoided giving a definitive commitment saying that “the Parties will use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020 in order for it to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”

However, the issue is more complex as Brexit will most likely have a far greater impact on where fish are sold to than where they are caught.

Theresa May to return to Brussels before summit in bid to seal Brexit deal

Prime Minister Theresa May said she would be returning to Brussels on Saturday (24 November) to hammer out an outline of Britain’s future ties with the EU after her meeting with the head of the bloc’s executive on Wednesday failed to bridge the gaps.

Max fac returns

The UK also appears to have obtained a concession on the Irish border question in the reference that “facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in developing any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

That, again, is a nod to the claims by the May government and, vociferously, by Brexiteers, that technological solutions could avoid the need for a hard border in Ireland.

On the Irish issue, an explicit reference has been added that states the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement “must be protected in all its parts”. This, however, might be not enough to reassure Brexiteers worried about Northern Ireland being partly in the EU’s Single Market while the rest of the UK is not.

The document, however, does not mention the contentious Gibraltar issue.

Spain is demanding that any future relationship agreement only apply to Gibraltar if Madrid gives its political consent.

Article 184 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement currently states that there will be negotiations to define the future EU-UK relationship which has caused angst among the Spanish authorities, who are keen for an agreement on Gibraltar to be subject to a separate bilateral arrangement between the UK and Spain, rather than packaged in with the current divorce plans.

In her statement outside Downing Street, May indicated, however, that a solution can be found for the issue: “Last night I spoke to the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and I am confident that on Sunday we will be able to agree a deal that delivers for the whole UK family, including Gibraltar.”

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday night, Sanchez warned that “if the Gibraltar issue is not solved, Spain will have to vote no and exercise its veto capacity. This affects the essence of our nation”.

Gibraltar still a rock in the Brexit deal shoe

European Union negotiators meet on Friday (23 November) to try to clear the last Brexit hurdle before a Sunday summit is due to endorse the withdrawal deal and future ties agreement, but Spain’s eleventh-hour objections over Gibraltar mean the final text could not be ready until the last minute.

Security partnership

A hefty portion part of the declaration concerns post-Brexit security ties, which “should comprise law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, as well as thematic cooperation in areas of common interest.”

On law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters the rules for cooperation in Europol and Eurojust cooperation are still to be determined. However, both sides agreed to create arrangements for “effective and swift data sharing”.

Meanwhile, the declaration aims to strike an equivalence deal on data flows with “appropriate” interaction between UK and EU data protection bodies by 2020.

The provisions on foreign and security policy open the way for the UK to collaborate in existing and future projects of the European Defence Agency (EDA) and UK defence companies to participate in projects under the European Defence Fund (EDF).

It also opens up the possibility of UK collaboration in military projects under the EU’s permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), “where invited to participate on an exceptional basis.” The EU was meant to announce by the end of the year the terms for non-EU countries to take part in PESCO projects.

However, the decision on the UK’s future participation as a third country has now been pushed to December at the earliest but is more likely next year, diplomats said earlier this week at an EU foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels.

Provisions for space cooperation, however, fall short as there are no substantial commitments on the future collaboration in the Galileo project.

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