EU and UK negotiators have reached an agreement over the terms of the ‘transition period’ faced by the UK after its impending withdrawal from the EU.
The deal was published on Monday by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, and later announced in a joint press conference in Brussels between Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary David Davis.
The UK Prime Minister Theresa May first requested such a transition period during her “Florence speech” last September. The speech called for a “pause” to full exit from the EU until 2021. During this transition period, May suggested, the UK should retain full access to the EU Single Market.
During the Florence speech, Mrs May also made a string of concessions to the EU in an attempt to break deadlock in the Brexit negotiations. The suggestion of a transition period was well received by EU negotiators, but was criticised by hardline “Brexiteers” as a bid to derail Britain’s exit from the EU.
Monday’s transition agreement outlines a 21 month transition period, which will begin when Britain officially leaves the EU in March 2019. During the transition, the UK will be able to negotiate its own trade deals, but will also be party to existing EU trade deals with other countries. EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period will enjoy the same rights as those arriving before Brexit, with the same applying to UK citizens in EU countries.
The deal has been criticised by Scotland’s fishing industry for stipulating that the UK will effectively remain part of the Common Fisheries Policy, without a direct say in its rules. The deal also fails to tackle the sticky issue of the Northern Irish border question, simply saying that Northern Ireland will stay in the Single Market and customs union in the absence of any other solution to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
The deal is still to be voted on by the EU 27 member states at the European Council later this week. The validity of the agreement is also dependent on the successful negotiation of a final withdrawal treaty.