The U.K’s European Union divorce treaty, which runs to around 500 pages, sets out all the ways that Britain will extricate itself from the bloc’s clutches after more than four decades of membership. There’s also an outline on what the future relationship between the two might look like — and it looks like they’re aiming for a pretty close bond.
Here’s a rundown of some of the main points:
The U.K. will remain in a transition period from the time it leaves the EU in March 2019 until the end of 2020. Britain will lose all its EU voting rights and influence during that time but everything else will stay the same, including the right of European citizens to live and work in the U.K., the oversight of EU courts and budget payments. There’s a new addition: the U.K. can extend the transition. The final end-date hasn’t yet been set, and the U.K. will need to decide if it wants to extend by June 2020. Brexiteers won’t be pleased.
The Future Relationship
It’s still to be negotiated in full, but the U.K. and EU are aiming to establish "a free trade area" as a final future relationship. That would combine "deep regulatory and customs cooperation."
That means May can say she has won the right to the "bespoke" trade deal she always said she wanted. But the U.K. will be bound by EU rules, and it’s hard to see how this would allow the U.K. to strike trade deals with other countries. The price for this is the U.K. sticking to EU standards to ensure the U.K. doesn’t indulge in unfair competition. Brexiteers won’t be pleased.
The City of London is set for a downgrade from the status quo, but that was always going to be the case. The future relationship will be based on so-called equivalence — the tool the EU uses for all other non-EU countries’ banks. (It means the EU decides that another country’s rules are equivalent, or as good as its own.) It’s what banks have long expected and that’s why they’ve been quick to set up offices on the Continent.
The U.K. is hoping to lock in equivalence decisions before the end of the transition period so that banks have time to prepare, and so a cliff-edge will be avoided.
The U.K. is also going to stick to EU data rules. It also wants to get EU permissions —- known as adequacy decisions — adopted before the end of transition.
The U.K. agreed to pay the EU a sum based on previous commitments to the EU budget, a share of pensions for EU staff, and European projects that it wants to continue participating in. Britain will also pay annual fees to cover the transition period. The U.K. estimated that this would amount to around 39 billion pounds. The EU has never given a figure. It will be paid over many years and the EU will send the U.K. an annual invoice.
Both sides agreed to protect the rights of their nationals in each other’s territory before the end of the transition period. These people, and their families, would be protected “for their lifetime” as long as they register after five years of continuous residence. U.K. judges will be able to ask the European Court of Justice for advice on protecting these rights.
The two sides designed an elaborate structure to settle disputes arising from the agreement. A joint committee will be set up with representatives from the EU and U.K. To the dismay of Brexiteers, there’s a role for the European Court of Justice here.
Food and Drink
Also an issue that remained unresolved until late in the negotiation, the treaty will cover the protection of “geographical indications.” The EU wanted the U.K. to commit to recognizing the special status of items such as Parma ham, Champagne and Feta cheese. The U.K. saw GIs as giving them a bargaining chip in the talks and wanted the issue to remain on the table until negotiation of the free trade agreement. The two sides have agreed that existing geographical indications will be legally protected by the Withdrawal Agreement unless and until a new agreement covers the issue as part of the future relationship.
This was always the sticking point. May convinced the EU to accept her solution rather than theirs, but at a heavy price that Brexit-backers hate. Unless a magical solution to keep the Irish border open by mid-2020 isn’t found (it’s eluded them so far), then the U.K. will have two options: request an extension of the transition or stay in a customs union with the EU.
On top of this, it would have to accept there will be specific policy areas in which Northern Ireland follows EU rules, and therefore diverges from the U.K. Brexiteers aren’t happy and neither are the Northern Irish allies who prop up May’s government.
What to do about the fissile material owned centrally by the EU but stored in the U.K. posed a tricky problem for negotiators. The draft agreement will see the U.K. take over ownership after the transition period.
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