After a very tense – and very long – meeting with her Cabinet, Theresa May managed to secure their “collective” backing for her Brexit draft deal. There were reports that ministers were on the verge of resigning and opinions clashed in the five-hour discussion. But, nonetheless, Mrs May emerged from Number 10 victorious to tell the waiting press that they had decided to approve her Withdrawal Agreement. Shortly after the 585-page draft deal and the separate Political Declaration were published.
We have summarised the key points so you don’t have to read it all (you’re welcome).
The declaration outlines a very close relationship with EU countries on goods, with no tariffs, fees, charges or “quantitative restrictions” across all sectors. The UK will take on the responsibility of applying border checks on behalf of the EU in some areas, specifically Northern Ireland.
It promises provisions for seamless electronic commerce – the sharing of data and and services without barriers – and cooperation to promote fair competition in a stable financial market “while respecting the Parties’ regulatory and decision-making autonomy”.
Citizens rights and free movement
As previously agreed, EU nationals living in the UK (for five years) and Brits living in EU states will retain their rights and be able to have their family live with them but will need to apply formally to remain in the country. UK nationals abroad may also have to reapply for their residence status.
Freedom of movement will end and be replaced by a skills-based immigration system. There will also be visa-free travel for all short-term trips to EU countries and arrangements for temporary entry and stay of people for business purposes.
The most contentious area of the entire negotiations came down to the insurance policy that would kick in should neither side come to an agreement on a future trade deal. The so-called Irish backstop is written into the withdrawal agreement to ensure no hard border returns on the island of Ireland.
Crucially – particularly for ardent Brexiteers within the Conservative Party – the UK will not be able to withdraw from the backstop arrangement unilaterally, instead an independent arbitration panel consisting of five people – two from the UK side, two from the EU side and one independent person – will judge if and when the backstop can come to an end. Whether this will float with Eurosceptics within the Tories and the DUP remains very much to be seen.
Once the UK officially leaves the EU on March 29 2019, both sides have agreed that the UK will enter into a transition period where the UK will enter into a “single customs territory” with the EU. This will give time for London and Brussels to thrash out a future trade agreement.
The end date has been set for December 2020, but the Written Agreement contains provisions that will allow the transition period to be extended should it be required to allow more time for a trade deal to be secured and avoid the UK entering into the backstop. The document does not give a specific end date, stating only that it will end by “20xx”.
However, Whitehall sources said MPs would know how long such an extension would last for before voting on the deal. In Brussels last month, Mrs May suggested it would last a “matter of months”.
Another fraught area in the final few weeks of the negotiations, EU members pushed for access to UK coastal waters in return for agreeing to a UK-wide single customs territory. The issue has yet to be resolved, and has essentially been “parked” with a view to being thrashed out as part of the future trade deal.
The political declaration merely sets out an aim to establish a “new fisheries agreement…on access to waters and quota shares” for future fishing opportunities after the transition period.
The European Arrest Warrant will end under the terms agreed in the arrest warrant, meaning a European member state could reject a demand for extradition from the UK and vice versa. The two sides have agree to secure “swift and effective arrangements” to allow both sides to extradite criminal suspects in any future deal.
Equally, the political declaration sets out an aim to nail down terms for the UK’s continuation in Europol and Eurojust.
The draft outlines a close relationship with regard to law enforcement, judicial cooperation and security. It states that cooperation in defence missions and security issues will be considered on a “case by case basis” and will be supported by exchanges of information and intelligence.
It adds there will be a “timely exchange of intelligence” between the UK and “relevant” EU bodies. It also states there will be consideration for “appropriate arrangements” on space cooperation, such as satellite navigation.
There will be special protocols in place for Gibraltar and Cyprus to enable people continue to live normally.
The draft agreement states that the UK and Spain will cooperate closely to protect citizens rights in Gibraltar. A special coordinating committee will be established and information will be shared between the two nations.
The draft deal itself does not specifically outline the amount of money that it will cost to leave the EU but additional notes provided by Downing Street stick with the previous prediction of between £35bn and £39bn. It calls the amount a “fair deal for UK taxpayers” but says the “definitive value of the financial settlement will, by its nature, be dependent on future uncertain events”.