UK and EU Brexit transition breakthrough - but still no deal on Northern Ireland

Posted On: 
19th March 2018

David Davis and Michel Barnier have agreed the terms of a post-Brexit transition deal - but admitted that there is still no agreement on how to avoid a hard Irish border.

Brexit Secretary David Davis held a joint press conference with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier today
Credit: 
BBC

Mr Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator hailed the breakthrough as a "decisive step" towards Britain's eventual withdrawal from the bloc.

The pair announced that key aspects of the implementation period had been agreed on, including citizens’ rights and the size of the UK's Brexit divorce bill.

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It was also confirmed that the transition period will come to an end on 31 December, 2020 - as demanded by Brussels.

However, talks will continue on how to avoid customs checks between the Republic and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Significantly, the EU's "backstop" position - which would see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union if no solution to the border issue can be found - will be included in the final withdrawal agreement.

In a major climbdown, Britain has also agreed that any EU citizens arriving in the UK after the Brexit date of 29 March, 2019, will have the same rights as those arriving before - despite Theresa May previously saying that would not be the case.

The UK government has also agreed that it will only have the right to be "consulted" on fishing quotas during the transition period, in a move likely to anger Scottish MPs.

Mr Barnier said that during the transition period, Britain will "preserve all the benefits, advantages of the single market and the customs union and European policies and will therefore be required to respect all the European rules just like member states do".

Mr Davis said: "We must seize the moment and carry on the momentum of the last few weeks," he said.

"The deal today should give us confidence that a good deal for the UK and EU is closer than ever before."

CLIFF-EDGE

But critics accused the UK government of capitulating to Brussels over all its negotiation red lines.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, of the pro-EU campaign group Open Britain, said: "Despite once claiming they held all the cards in the negotiations, in the end the Brexiters have been prepared to compromise and surrender on almost every single point.

"On the divorce bill, on the primacy of European law, on freedom of movement, on fisheries, the Government has yet again capitulated. We should be in no doubt that this will be the shape of things to come in the negotiations over the future relationship.

"With no clarity on what Britain wants from the negotiations and with the prospect of a cliff-edge merely pushed back a little further, it makes no sense to plunge into the transition period at all.

"Instead the UK should seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period and aim to agree a comprehensive settlement. And if we cannot reach a Brexit deal that is good for Britain and matches the promises that were made in the referendum campaign we should keep all our options open."