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Brexit deal: May and EU agree last part of of trade deal

Theresa May (pictured on a visit in North London today) has secured a breakthrough in the negotiations over a political declaration 

Theresa May dramatically sealed her Brexit deal with Brussels today despite last-ditch wrangling over fishing and Gibraltar. 

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the ‘future framework’ outlining terms of a trade deal had been agreed by negotiators this morning.

It has now been sent to EU capitals ahead of a showdown summit on Sunday – amid complaints from Spain over Gibraltar and France on fishing.

In possible concessions to help Mrs May get the deal through the Commons, the 26-page document makes clear that Britain will have an ‘independent trade policy’.

And it stresses both sides’ ‘determination to replace the backstop’ for the Irish border with alternative plans in future – potentially reviving the ‘Max Fac’ solution favoured by Brexiteers.

The pact confirms that free movement will end, which could be seen as a win for the PM – but also states that the UK will not discriminate between nationals from different EU countries. 

There would be visa free travel for all citizens making short trips, which will be a relief for holidaymakers.

But is anger that the issue of access to UK fishing waters appears to have been kicked back to be decided after March.

And the commitment to ‘build and improve on’ the customs provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement is also set to spark fury. 

Mrs May is now due to make a statement to MPs at 3pm as she launches an all-out drive to get the package through Parliament – having cancelled a scheduled appearance on ITV’s This Morning. 

The Pound surged on the developments, with markets concluding the chances of no-deal Brexit have receded.

The political declaration released today outlines the terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit. 

But it would not come into force until the end of a transition period – mooted to end in December 2020.

The exact details – which will be crucial – will not be hammered out until after Britain formally leaves the bloc in March next year.

EU Council President Donald Tusk

But there was anger from some Tories about the plans, with Ross Thomson claiming Mrs May had breached faith over fishing rules

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the ‘future framework’ outlining the plans for the final UK-EU trade deal had been agreed by negotiators this morning and sent to EU capitals (left). But there was anger from some Tories about the plans, with Ross Thomson claiming Mrs May had breached faith over fishing rules (right) 

The draft of the declaration was published today after intense horse-trading between the UK and EU nations

The draft of the declaration was published today after intense horse-trading between the UK and EU nations

The political declaration has been fleshed out from just seven pages to some 26 since an earlier version was released last week. 

Among the main points in the draft document are:

  • The UK and EU ‘agree to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership’. 
  • Britain appears to have accepted Brussels demands for a ‘level playing field’ – which could mean mirroring EU rules on the environment, safety and labour market rules. 
  • There is no specific reference to Mrs May’s Chequers blueprint for frictionless trade with the EU – but it clearly indicates a deeper relationship than the Canada-style model favoured by Brexiteers. 
  • The package will include a ‘free trade area as well as wider sectoral cooperation where it is in the mutual interest of both Parties’. 
  •  In a nod to Brussels red line against ‘cherry picking’ of membership benefits, the document says the future deal will ‘facilitate trade and investment between the Parties to the extent possible, while respecting the integrity of the Union’s Single Market and the Customs Union’. 
  • But it also tries to assuage Brexiteer fears about ‘vassalage’ by making clear the UK’s ‘internal market’ must be respected and ‘recognising the development of an independent trade policy by the UK beyond this economic partnership’.
  • The row over access to the UK’s fishing waters appears to have been kicked back to be resolved in the detailed trade negotiations starting after Brexit day.  

Downing Street said the PM is updating Cabinet on the developments in a conference call, before making her statement to MPs later.

A No10 spokesman said: ‘As the PM said last night, she had a good meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker where further progress was made in the negotiations.

‘This allowed them to give further instruction to negotiators who began work immediately on resolving the remaining issues.’ 

Senior sources said there had been ‘significant progress since the outline political declaration in building up the text’.

They said: ‘The PM thinks we are towards a place where we have a good deal for the UK.’

The source pointed to specific lines in the text about ‘alternative arrangements for Northern Ireland’ as a win since the first draft. They also highlighted language about Britain having an ‘independent trade policy’ after Brexit.

But there was an immediate backlash from Remainers and Eurosceptics, with Nicola Sturgeon saying it was ‘blindfold Brexit’ with fishing left as a ‘bargaining chip’ for the detailed negotiations.

‘Just read Political Declaration. Lots of unicorns taking the place of facts about the future relationship. Fair play to the EU for pushing it as far as possible…but it adds up to a blindfold Brexit. Difficult issues unresolved – so extended transition/backstop almost certain,’ Mrs Sturgeon wrote. 

Brexiteer ringleader Steve Baker suggested the rebels would not be persuaded by language about an ‘independent trade policy’ tweeting: ‘Fool me once…’.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin agreed with David Davis’ ex chief of staff Stewart Jackson the commitment to build on the divorce deal was bad news for Britain’s freedom to trade.

He said: ‘This commits the UK in principle to ‘build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin’.

What does the Brexit political declaration say and will it appease the Brexiteers?

Theresa May has thrashed out more commitments with the EU for the Brexit political declaration – which sets out the plans for the UK’s future relationship with Brussels.

The PM was under massive pressure from Tory Brexiteers to come back with major wins in order for it to stand any chance of getting it through Parliament.

Here are some of the key points in the document: 

The Irish border:

This is the crunch issue in the talks. The UK has committed to keeping Britain in a customs union backstop if no free trade deal is done in time which keeps the Irish border soft.

This has sparked Brexiteer fury, and leading Tory Eurosecptics Iain Duncan-Smith and Owen Paterson have held private meetings with the PM to press her to change the plan.

The document tries to calm Brexiteers by stating that both sides have restated their ‘determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing’.

On the UK striking free trade deals     

In a concession to the UK, the EU appears to have conceded Britain must be able to pursue its own trade deals.

The document states:  ‘It must also ensure the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the protection of its internal market, while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to the development of its independent trade policy and the ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.’ 

But it does little to flesh out the details. 

Customs Union / free trade area 

Both sides have stressed their commitment to a new free trade a deal.

But Brexiteers have already erupted in fury as the document suggests the future deal will look a lot like a customs union.

The document states there will be ‘deep regulatory and customs cooperation’.

Fleshing out what a future trade deal will look like, it states: ‘The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors’.

It says the two sides should have ‘ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory’ in the divorce deal.

Tory MP and arch Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin branded the clause ‘worse than Chequers’. 

Immigration

Free movement of people from the EU will end. 

But the document suggests high levels of EU immigration to the UK is set to stay as new routes to settle in Britain are set up.

The UK has agreed to consider letting EU nationals move to the UK for research, study, training and youth exchanges. 

And it says both sides will explore how to open borders for ‘legitimate travel’. 

But immigration after Brexit from EU states must be ‘based on non discrimination’ – this effectively means the UK must have the same immigration rules for each of the 27 countries, rather than negotiating different ones state by state.  

There will be visa free travel for short term trips by EU nationals and vice versa.  

Benefits:

Britain could still pay benefits to EU nationals after Brexit, and  vice versa.

The document states: ‘The parties also agree to consider addressing social security coordination in the light of future movement of persons.’

Fishing:

Talks on what access the EU will have to fish in Britain’s waters after Brexit have been delayed. It says the deal should be agreed by 1 July 2020.

The document states: ‘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.’

This has sparked  massive alarm among fishermen and Brexiteers that EU will be given rights to fish in UK waters even after Brexit.

Tory MP and Brexiteer Ross Thomson lashed the proposal, warning it means ‘sovereignty over our waters sacrificed for a trade deal. That is unacceptable.’

The two sides have also agreed to cooperate on deciding fishing quotas in the future. 

The document states that ‘the United Kingdom will be an independent coastal state’ – but it is doubtful this will do enough to appease the Brexiteers.

EU judges:

EU judges will still have a role in formulating laws in Britain after Brexit – but it will be far less  than they have now.

Britain and Brussels have agreed to set up a disputes panel which will have officials from Britain, member states and an independent country on each case.

While EU judges will not sit on the panel, when disputes concerns areas of EU law, judges in Brussels will be consulted on the meaning of this law.

Space:

The UK and the EU have pledged to ‘consider appropriate arrangements for cooperation on space’.

This comes in the wake of a major over the Galileo satellite programme, which the EU has threatened to boot Britain out of despite the country sinking many millions into the project.

‘Which means at least Chequers or worse.’ 

Scottish Tory Ross Thomson condemned the settlement on fishing.

He said: ‘The political declaration commits UK to “’establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter allia, access to waters and quota shares’”.

‘This means sovereignty over our waters sacrificed for a trade deal. That is unacceptable. We must be a normal Independent coastal state like Norway.’ 

Mrs May made a dash to Brussels last night for talks with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, but it took all-night negotiations between officials to secure a breakthrough.

She is planning to return to the EU capital on Saturday to set the stage for the leaders’ summit the next day.

EU diplomats said today Madrid was ‘all alone’ in its bid to reopen the text of the Withdrawal Agreement – while Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney warned that that part of the deal was ‘closed’. 

There is speculation Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez is taking a hard line for domestic reasons, as key regional elections are looming. It is not yet clear that the issue has been settled.

Mrs May will hope that the progress on future trade can help her get on the front foot, after suffering a welter of criticism from all sides over her divorce plan.

Pressures intensified today after it emerged Jeremy Hunt warned at Cabinet last week that the Irish border backstop had become a ‘Turkey trap’ that could tie the UK down for decades.

The declaration states that the UK and EU ‘agree to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership’.

Britain appears to have accepted Brussels demands for a ‘level playing field’ – which could mean mirroring EU rules on the environment, safety and labour market rules. 

The package will include a ‘free trade area as well as wider sectoral cooperation where it is in the mutual interest of both Parties’. 

‘It will be underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition, as set out in Section XIV of this Part. 

In a nod to Brussels red line against ‘cherry picking’ of membership benefits, the document says the future deal will ‘facilitate trade and investment between the Parties to the extent possible, while respecting the integrity of the Union’s Single Market and the Customs Union’.

But it also tries to assuage Brexiteer fears about ‘vassalage’ by making clear the UK’s ‘internal market’ must be respected and ‘recognising the development of an independent trade policy by the UK beyond this economic partnership’.

There is also a reference to the possibility of ‘alternative’ arrangements that could avoid the need for the Irish border ‘backstop’, potentially reviving the ‘Max Fac’ technological solution favoured by Eurosceptics. 

There is no specific mention of Mrs May’s Chequers plan to make trade as frictionless as possible – but hints at something deeper than the Canada-style deal favoured by Brexiteers.

‘The Parties envisage that the extent of the United Kingdom’s commitments on customs and regulatory cooperation, including with regard to alignment of rules, would be taken into account in the application of related checks and controls, considering this as a factor in reducing risk,’ the document says.

‘This, combined with the use of all available facilitative arrangements as described above, can lead to a spectrum of different outcomes for administrative processes as well as checks and controls, and note in this context their wish to be as ambitious as possible, while respecting the integrity of their respective markets and legal orders.’ 

In a passage that will alarm Brexiteers, the document states: ‘The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors, with ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.’

Mrs May will hold talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – who holds the rotating presidency of the European Council – in Downing Street later.

The delay over both the Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration had been threatening to derail the entire process, with Berlin warning yesterday that Chancellor Angela Merkel will pull the plug unless Britain, France, Spain and other countries end the last-minute horse-trading over the details.

German sources had said Mrs Merkel would not attend Sunday’s summit unless the deal was finalised by tomorrow.

The stand-off raised fears about a repeat of the disastrous Salzburg summit in September, when EU leaders publicly derided Mrs May’s Chequers proposals after initially indicating they would consider them.

Speaking after a two-hour meeting with Mr Juncker in Brussels last night, Mrs May admitted there were ‘further issues that need resolution’.

It has emerged that Mr Hunt told last week’s crucial Cabinet meeting that Turkey had been negotiating with the EU for 31 years – and Britain risked the same. 

He said the ‘backstop’ that will keep Britain in a customs union with the EU could become a ‘front stop’.

He also called for ‘incentives’ to avoid the status of a satellite of the EU. 

As the Brexit talks enter their final days, EU officials have been struggling to balance a string of conflicting demands.

EU Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis had said a final text must be agreed before a meeting tomorrow of EU diplomats who are due to brief their national governments before Sunday’s summit.

But Spain yesterday stepped up threats to vote down the deal unless it is altered to give Madrid a veto over Gibraltar’s future. 

Responding to the brinkmanship, Mr Coveney told Euronews: ‘The withdrawal treaty text is agreed, it’s closed

‘If you reopen for one issue, well then there is an avalanche of other asks, I am sure, that different countries will have.’

An EU diplomat told Politico: ‘We are following the latest developments with growing concern and incomprehension. 

‘Among the EU27 our Spanish friends are all alone on this.’

France, meanwhile, had been demanding guaranteed access to British fishing grounds – an issue that appears to have been put on hold in the declaration text.

With the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration now seemingly close to sealed with the EU, attention will turn to the impending showdown in Parliament.

More than 80 MPs have already publicly pledged to oppose the package in a meaningful vote due to be held next month. 

Three Tory MPs challenged the Prime Minister over the issue in the Commons yesterday, with environment committee chairman Neil Parish telling her the draft deal was ‘not good enough as it stands’. 

Mrs May insisted the Irish backstop was designed to be ‘temporary’ – if it was used at all – but sources confirmed she recognises the need to secure a clearer exit route out of it. 

One Cabinet minister said: ‘It is about giving MPs enough comfort so that they can say ‘the deal is not what I first thought it was’.’

The minister suggested that rather than redrafting the deal, appendices or explanatory notes could be added to make it more palatable. ‘There are lots of ways of changing something without changing something,’ the source said.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pictured in Westminster yesterday, is said to have warned privately that Mrs May's deal could be a 'Turkey trap'

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, pictured in Westminster yesterday, is said to have warned privately that Mrs May’s deal could be a ‘Turkey trap’

What happens if the EU signs off on the Brexit deal – and what happens if they don’t

Theresa May (pictured at the Lord Mayor's Banquet on Monday) has struck a Brexit deal with Brussels - but now has to sell it to her Cabinet and then Parliament 

Theresa May (pictured at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on Monday) has struck a Brexit deal with Brussels – but now has to sell it to her Cabinet and then Parliament 

Emergency EU Summit, Brussels, November 25

What will happen? The EU has scheduled a summit to sign off the Brexit deal covering the withdrawal and future trade – although there are fears that last minute wrangling over issues such as fishing rights and Gibraltar could derail the event altogether.

If it is cancelled the negotiating teams will keep working until they are in position to put an overall agreement to leaders – or they conclude the situation is hopeless. 

The next routine EU summit is due to happen on December 13-14.

However, by that point time will be on the verge of running out – as both sides need to ratify the deal before March.  

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) is still a crucial figure in the Brexit drama

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (pictured) is still a crucial figure in the Brexit drama

The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the UK Parliament, December 2019

What will happen: Assuming a deal is reached, a debate, probably over more than one day, will be held in the House of Commons on terms of the deal.

It will end with a vote on whether or not MPs accept the deal. More than one vote might happen if MPs are allowed to table amendments.

The vote is only happening after MPs forced the Government to accept a ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament on the terms of the deal.

What happens if May wins? If the meaningful vote is passed, there will be a series of further votes as the withdrawal treaty is written into British law.

It will be a huge political victory for the Prime Minister and probably secure her version of Brexit.

What happens if she loses? This is possibly the most dangerous stage of all. 

The Prime Minister will have to stake her political credibility on winning a vote and losing it would be politically devastating. 

Brexiteers do not want to sign off the divorce bill without a satisfactory trade deal and Remainers are reluctant to vote for a blind Brexit.

She could go back to Brussels to ask for new concessions before a second vote but many think she would have to resign quickly. 

The Prime Minister (pictured at the EU Council in June) has made clear the UK will leave without a deal if MPs reject her package

The Prime Minister (pictured at the EU Council in June) has made clear the UK will leave without a deal if MPs reject her package

Ratification in the EU, February 2019 

What will happen? After the meaningful vote in the UK, the EU will have to ratify the agreement.

The European Parliament must also vote in favour of the deal. It has a representative in the talks, Guy Verhofstadt, who has repeatedly warned the deal must serve the EU’s interests.

Will it be agreed? In practice, once the leaders of the 27 member states have agreed a deal, ratification on the EU side should be assured.

If the deal has passed the Commons and she is still in office, this should not be dangerous for the Prime Minister. 

Exit day, March 29, 2019 

At 11pm on March 29, 2019, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union, two years after triggering Article 50 and almost three years after the referendum. 

Exit happens at 11pm because it must happen on EU time.

If the transition deal is in place, little will change immediately – people will travel in the same way as today and goods will cross the border normally. 

But Britain’s MEPs will no longer sit in the European Parliament and British ministers will no longer take part in EU meetings.

Negotiations will continue to turn the political agreement on the future partnership into legal text that will eventually become a second treaty. Both sides will build new customs and immigration controls in line with what this says.

Transition ends, December 2020

The UK’s position will undergo a more dramatic change at the end of December 2020, when the ‘standstill’ transition is due to finish.

If the negotiations on a future trade deal are complete, that could come into force.

But if they are still not complete the Irish border ‘backstop’ plan could be triggered.

Under current thinking, that means the UK staying in the EU customs union and more regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

Eurosceptics fear this arrangement will prevent the country striking trade deals elsewhere, and could effectively last for ever, as Brussels will have no incentive to negotiate a replacement deal. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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