Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Newspaper column 13 December 2017 - On to the next stage of Brexit negotiations!

At the end of last week we heard the welcome news that the Prime Minister had reached an agreement on the first phase of negotiations for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

On Friday the UK and EU negotiating teams issued a joint report on the progress they have made on the three areas covered in the first phase of negotiations.  The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has agreed that this report represents sufficient progress and that we should now move on to the talks about our future partnership.

As a result, Donald Tusk, the President of the EU Council, has recommended that the December Council allows the next stage of negotiations to proceed and that there should be quick progress on agreeing an implementation period.

The agreement on Phase One of the negotiations secures the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU, represents a fair settlement of the accounts and maintains the Common Travel Area with Ireland, which has operated since the 1920s, and sets out both sides’ determination to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while respecting the integrity of the UK Single Market.

The round of negotiations that has just finished has also given us a number of concessions where the EU has backed down on positions they previously held at the beginning of the talks.

For example, the EU have accepted that we will carry out systematic criminality checks and will ask individuals to disclose previous criminality when they apply for visa documentation. Any EU nationals that commit crime after we leave will be subject to UK laws.

The EU have also  accepted that future spouses  from the EU will be subject to the UK immigration law provisions that apply to non-EU spouses currently.

In terms of monetary obligations, we have also reached an agreement that the UK will honour our commitments to the end of the budget period, but have crucially secured the rebate on these payments as well as other adjustments that will minimise our bill. We expect the settlement to come in significantly below many of the EU’s initial estimates. This will be paid as and when the commitments are due and are dependent on a broader agreement on our future partnership, and is a significant change to the EU’s previous position, which was that the UK should pay in full the obligations resulting from the whole period of its membership; they estimated this at 75b Euro.

I have always thought moving to the second phase of negotiations was of crucial importance, as his contains the real ‘meat’ of the deal allowing us to look at the implementation period and final trading agreements.

The EU had stipulated that we could not move on to phase two of negotiations until we had made progress on the citizenship status of current EU citizens living in the UK, the ‘divorce bill’ and the Irish Border, which we have now done. I believe our current situation is a reasonable compromise that will now allow us to get on the really important stuff in phase two. The EU has said previously that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and this certainly continues to be the spirit of the negotiations!

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