The European Commission announced today that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to the second round of Brexit talks, meaning a deal has been reached over the Irish border.
The talks can now move on to the future of trade after Brexit. Addressing a press conference, the prime minister Theresa May said the deal would "secure the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the UK" who would "be able to go on living as before", and added that "there will be no hard border in Northern Ireland".
She went on to say the deal did not mean the UK would stay in the single market. The EU’s draft guidelines for the second phase of negotiations seen by BuzzFeed News say Britain will remain in the single market and customs union during the two-year transition period after Brexit.
While the final call on the deal rests with the EU27, May said she expected next week to win their endorsement, following the commission's recommendation.
May and Brexit secretary David Davis met European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU negotiator Michel Barnier last night for talks.
The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic had threatened to put the deal in jeopardy, with fears of a return to a hard border.
However, May said not only would be there be no hard border, but the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom” would be protected.
On Monday, the DUP – the Northern Irish party keeping the Tories in power in Westminster through a "confidence and supply" deal – rejected draft plans drawn up by the UK and the EU. However, the party's leader Arlene Foster, said on Friday the changes to the wording would mean there was "no red line down the Irish sea".
"There are still matters there that we would have liked to see clarified. We ran out of time, essentially," she said. "We think that we needed to go back again and talk about those matters but the prime minister has decided to go to Brussels in relation to this text, and she said she's done that in the national interest."
Crucially, the deal reached in the early hours of Friday morning confirms the UK’s commitment to avoiding a hard border under all circumstances, while maintaining "full alignment" with internal market and customs union rules:
The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom's intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.
The following paragraph provides the DUP with the assurances it sought:
…the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.
On citizens’ rights, the agreement would cover all family members provided they are related to the rights holder at the point of Brexit. This will include family reunion rights, spouses, and future children.
In one concession to the UK, as anticipated by BuzzFeed News last Saturday, the text states that the right to be joined by family members not covered by the agreement after Brexit will be subject to UK law.
"The deal we’ve struck will guarantee the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and of a million UK citizens living in the EU, " May said at the press conference. "EU citizens living in the UK will have their rights enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts. They will be able to go on living their lives as before."
The deal would also see the continuation of social security benefits, including their exportability, and continued eligibility for access to healthcare on current terms.
Through the agreement the UK is also committing that that the procedure to get settled status will be “transparent, smooth and streamlined”.
But British in Europe, a group campaigning for the rights of Britons living abroad, said the deal was "even worse than we expected" and that May had "sold 4.5 million people down the river in a grubby bargain".
Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe, said: "This is a double disaster for British people living in Europe. At the moment, not only is it unclear whether we keep our automatic residency rights, but it looks like we can also kiss goodbye to continuing free movement beyond any agreed transition period – which so many of us who work across Europe rely on to support our families."
The UK’s withdrawal agreement and implementation bill will “express reference” to the exit deal, and “will fully incorporate the citizens' rights Part into UK law,” the text of the commission’s report says.
In order to guarantee the rights, the EU has insisted that the European Court of Justice play a role, and a mechanism to allow this be put in place:
In the context of the application or interpretation of those rights, UK courts shall therefore have due regard to relevant decisions of the CJEU [Court of Justice of the European Union] after the specified date. The Agreement should also establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment in a case before it. This mechanism should be available for UK courts or tribunals for litigation brought within 8 years from the date of application of the citizens' rights Part.
When the talks began, the so-called Brexit bill was expected to be the most contentious issue. In the end, it was the first of the three "phase one" matters to be settled.
The UK will continue to contribute to the EU budget through to 2020 “as if the UK had remained in the Union” and, importantly, “will contribute its share of the financing of the budgetary commitments outstanding at 31 December 2020”, the document reads.
Britain will also contribute to liabilities (except liabilities with corresponding assets) incurred before 31 December 2020, and will remain liable for its share of contingent liabilities established up to the date of withdrawal. At the same time, Britain will receive a share of any financial benefits that would have fallen to it had it remained a member state.
Payments arising from the financial settlement will become due as if the UK had remained a member state, meaning the UK will not have to make a one-off lump sum payment. A schedule of payments and implementation modalities will be agreed in the next phase of negotiations. Meanwhile, the two sides have agreed that the financial settlement will be paid in euros.
The UK will also continue to support the funding for refugees in Turkey, the EU’s fund for “stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa", and will remain party to the European Development Fund.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk described the progress as "the personal success of prime minister Theresa May" in the press conference, but said the "most difficult challenge is still ahead".
"We need more clarity on how the UK sees our future relationship after it has left the single market and customs union," he said. "I therefore propose to mandate our negotiator to start exploratory talks with our British friends about this problem.
"On our side, we are ready to start preparing a close EU-UK partnership in trade, but also in the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defense, and foreign policy. For this to happen, the European Council will have to adopt additional guidelines next year.
"While being satisfied with today’s agreement, which is obviously the personal success of prime minister Theresa May, let us remember that the most difficult challenge is still ahead. We all know that breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building a new relationship is much harder."
Tweeting on Friday afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn demanded a "stronger" approach from the Tories as negotiations enter their second phase.
Other leading figures echoed Tusk's remarks, stressing that Friday morning's announcement marks the beginning of a new, difficult stage in the Brexit process.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted footage of a hurdle race, noting that there is "more to come".
Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, predicted that the process is about to become "really tough".
In a tweet notable for the absence of any mention of DexEU, Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the Civil Service, praised Brexit adviser Oliver Robbins and his team.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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