Brussels (December 9, 2017): The United Kingdom and the European Union reached a significant milestone in their pursuit of a Brexit deal on Friday, breaking a deadlock that allows talks to move on to a crucial second phase.
After a dramatic night of shuttle diplomacy that capped months of tortuous negotiations, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the breakthrough at an early morning press conference in Brussels.Crucially, the two sides reached a deal on the historically sensitive issue of the Irish border, which had threatened to derail the talks as they reached a critical moment earlier this week. Discussions can now move on to the potentially tougher issue of a future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.
The breakthrough represents a significant coup for May, whose beleaguered premiership had appeared under threat as talks faltered. It was also a relief for EU negotiators, who feared a complete breakdown in talks if a deal was not done.“Getting to this point required give and take on both sides,” May said. “And I believe the joint report that is being published is in the best interest of the whole of the UK.”
Agreement has now been reached on three key issues: Britain’s Brexit “divorce” bill, the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, and the Irish border. When Brexit negotiations began just under six months ago, the EU was clear on its position: It would not countenance any discussion about a future trading relationship with Britain until “sufficient progress” had been made on those three issues.Irish border: The Irish question proved the toughest to resolve. The demilitarization of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 deal that ended years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. Now, the border posts are gone and people can move freely around the island of Ireland.
But Brexit raised the prospect of a return to a “hard” border, as Northern Ireland would leave the EU while the Republic of Ireland remained in the bloc.
Divorce bill: Friday’s agreement says the UK would be required to continue making contributions to the EU budget up to the end of 2020 “as if it had remained in the union”. The report adds that the UK will remain liable for its outstanding financial commitments and liabilities up to December 3, 2020.
A spokesman for the UK government put the estimated net cost of the divorce bill at between £35 billion and £39 billion ($47 billion and $52 billion) adding that this estimation “represents a fair settlement of our obligations.”
Rights of EU citizens after Brexit: EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa will have their rights to live, work and study protected. British courts will enforce the rights but, in a concession to Europe, the UK has agreed that difficult cases can be referred to the European Court of Justice for eight years after Brexit.