The Brexit negotiations reached another major milestone on 17 October 2019. After the chief negotiators on both sides – the UK Government and the European Commission, which represents the EU27 – had wrangled right to the last minute, the Heads of State and Government of the EU27 politically endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK at a meeting of the European Council.
Two main documents
The negotiations were not always easy, but the outcome remains a fair compromise on which both sides made concessions. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team have been working flat out on behalf of the EU27 and on the basis of the guidelines provided by the European Council to ensure a positive outcome to the negotiations. The agreement between the EU27 and the UK comprises two main documents:
1. The Withdrawal Agreement
The changes to the Agreement as compared to the text endorsed back in November 2018 concern the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures that the integrity of the EU single market and the Good Friday Agreement, in particular the continuation of the open border between Ireland the Northern Ireland, is maintained. To make this possible, the new Northern Ireland Protocol provides that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory but that all relevant rules of the EU single market will apply in Northern Ireland and the Union Customs Code will apply. The checks and collection of customs duties this will entail will take place at the entry points to the island of Ireland in Northern Ireland. In this way, the Withdrawal Agreement safeguards the open border and thus the peace in Northern Ireland that was painstakingly achieved 20 years ago.
The other provisions of the 535-page Withdrawal Agreement, which lays down the arrangements for the UK’s departure, remain unchanged. These include the following key aspects, which were of particular importance to us: under this agreement, there will be comprehensive protection of the rights of EU citizens who live in the United Kingdom and the rights of British citizens who live in the EU; they can continue to live, work, study and enjoy social security there. The UK’s financial obligations are also laid down in the agreement. In accordance with the European Council’s guidelines, the Court of Justice of the European Union will play an important role in monitoring and implementing the agreement. By agreeing a transition period until the end of 2020 (which can be extended once for up to two years), we have also created time for talks on the future relationship. This will provide the business sector and members of the public with important planning certainty.
2. The Political Declaration
The Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK sets out the framework for future relations. The transition period laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement is to be used to formally negotiate the future relationship on the basis of the Political Declaration after the UK has left the EU. The Declaration essentially envisages an economic partnership and a security partnership. In the economic field, the goal is to conclude a comprehensive free-trade agreement. Given the geographical proximity and close economic ties between the EU and the UK, robust and wide-ranging agreements are to be concluded to ensure a level playing-field. As regards the security partnership, the aim is comprehensive and close cooperation in the field of internal and external security based on reciprocity. Through effective data exchange and cooperation in the fight against terrorism financing we will continue to ensure our citizens’ security. It is equally important that foreign policy cooperation continues to be as close as possible. The UK remains part of our community of shared values and action in Europe, and this Europe faces immense challenges at the international level. In view of this, we will continue to need the closest possible partnership with the UK.