Reprieve for Theresa May as UK and EU agree principles of Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has been under intense pressure from Brexit hardliners within her Conservative Party, as well as the opposition Labour seeking a soft exit for Britain from the EU.

world Updated: Dec 08, 2017 19:07 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Brexit,European Union,EU-Britain talks
British Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on December 8, 2017. (Reuters)

Pinned with the caveat that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, Britain and the European Union on Friday finalised a set of principles onthree key areas of Brexit, providing a reprieve for Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been under pressure to deliver.

Hobbled by a partner - the Democratic Unionist Party - on whose support her government is dependent to remainin power, May burnt the proverbial midnight oil before landing in Brussels for a breakfast meeting with European Commission president Jean Claude-Juncker.

May has also been under intense pressure from Brexit hardliners within her Conservative Party and outside, as well asthe opposition Labour seeking a soft exit for Britain from the EU.

Both May and Claude-Junckerannounced what they called a “breakthrough” on the three areas of rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, the so-called “divorcebill”, and future arrangements between Northern Ireland and Ireland. A 16-page “joint report” was released, setting out some details.

Given the slow, tortuous progress in talks since the EU referendum in 2016, the agreement is seen as a major step forward, but as Claude-Juncker and others cautioned, there is still a long way to go and the fine print of key areas is yet to be written.

The agreement claims “sufficient progress” has now been made, andsets out that EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the 28-nation bloc have the right to stay. Rights of their children and those of partners in existing “durable relationships” are also guaranteed.

This assurance is crucial to the future of thousands of Goan citizens who moved to the UK after acquiring Portuguese passports. The cut-off date for EU citizens guaranteed the right to remain in the UK will be the actual date of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, likely to be March 2019.

The agreement also promises to ensure there will be no “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland and to uphold the Belfast agreement. It makes clear the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will leave the customs union. This was a key issue for the DUP and the Ireland government.

However, it is unclear how an open border will be achieved, but the document says in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement.

The Brexit divorce bill is estimated to be between £35 billion and £39 billion, reflecting the commitments the UK is already signed up to until 2020, including the EU budget and pension of EU employees.

The agreement will be put before a full meeting of all member states of the EU later this month. If it gets their approval, negotiations will move to the next stage on a possible post-Brexit trade deal and any transition arrangements.

First Published: Dec 08, 2017 18:51 IST