20 March 2018

Ahead of the meeting of Member States at the end of the week, the two Brexit negotiating teams, led by David Davis and Michel Barnier, have announced agreement on large parts of deal for the “orderly withdrawal” of the UK from the EU.

Most importantly, from the point of view of UK business, it is now certain that this week’s Council meeting will agree the request for a transition period after the formal Brexit date next year.

This will, however, not be the full two years that had been suggested by the UK Government but from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 (the end of the current seven year EU financial period).

At the press conference to give details of the latest deal, Mr Barnier showed a copy of the draft treaty on UK withdrawal with large parts (three-quarters, he claimed) marked in green as agreed.

Among the items now enshrined in the text, having been drafted at last December’s meeting in Brussels, are the questions of citizens’ rights after Brexit and the settlement of the so-called divorce bill.

Good news for Mrs May in her dealings with determined Brexiteers is that the UK will be able to negotiate and sign trade deals during the transition period; they will be less happy that Mr Davis has had to agree to EU vessels fishing in UK waters during the same period.

As attention begins to turn to negotiations on the trading relationship between the two sides after Brexit, it is clear that one of the main problems has been pushed down the road by the latest agreement.

It is still unclear how the UK and Ireland can share a border without re-introducing checks and delays in Northern Ireland, the “hard border” that everyone agrees must not happen but for which no-one has so far come up with an acceptable solution.

“In particular,” Mr Barnier said, “we agreed today that a backstop solution must form part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Yes, Mr Davis said, but “it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland”.

Lots still to do.