Brexit secretary David Davis has spoken about the latest phase of negotiations to exit the European Union.
He referred back to December when he said the talks and reached an important milestone and went on to label the latest deal ‘another significant step’ which he hoped would be welcomed by the European Council when it met later this week.
He commended the negotiating teams of both sides for their “skill, their commitment and from time to time their ability to go without sleep”, and said that much of December’s joint report had been incorporated into the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Of the implementation period he said that businesses “now have certainty about the terms that will apply immediately after our withdrawal” and this means that they could continue to operate and invest with confidence.
Pointedly, he said that this was true across the whole United Kingdom family, including Gibraltar, in defiance of a claim by the Spanish government, agreed by the EU, that it should hold a veto over whether any deal should apply to The Rock, although he added that ‘dialogue’ with Spain would continue.
During the implementation period, the UK will be able to sign and ratify new trade deals around the world although these would not come into force until the implementation period is over. He said this would provide new opportunities for businesses across the United Kingdom and seize one of Brexit’s greatest opportunities. Agreements with the EU would continue to apply, as would international agreements which arise from our European Union membership continue.
“Businesses can be confident there will be no disruption to their existing trade relationship as we leave the European Union,” he said.
A joint committee of representatives from the UK and EU would ensure the agreement is properly implemented and would resolve concerns as they arose, and will be underpinned by a clear commitment from both sides to act in good faith.
He then turned to fisheries and said: “We’ve also agreed specific safeguards when it comes to annual fishing negotiations. These arrangements will only apply for the negotiations in 2019, since we will still be a Member State for those that take place at the end of this year. Through 2020 we will be negotiating fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state, deciding who can access our waters and on what terms.
“For the year where it is relevant, we have agreed the European Union will have to consult us ahead of the negotiations, and the United Kingdom’s share of the total catch cannot be changed, protecting the interests of the United Kingdom fishing community.”
On foreign policy and defence collaboration, he said that as recent events demonstrated, close cooperation with our allies was central to standing up for a rules-based international order, so when it comes to foreign policy and defence collaboration, he has set out a plan for an ambitious partnership which goes beyond the relationship the European Union has with any other third country, he added.
Then he struck a slightly less conciliatory tone. “There may be occasions when our vital national policy means we cannot agree with a European Union decision,” he said. “In those cases the United Kingdom could choose not to apply it.”
He complimented the negotiating team on its ‘rapid progress’ and said that chapters of the Withdrawal Agreement covering citizens’ rights and the financial settlement had been ‘locked down’. “We have made sure the voluntary reference mechanism we agreed in December will start when we leave in March 2019 for any challenges relating to applications for settled status,” he said. “The reference mechanism relating to other rights, such as social security, which are only relevant after the implementation period, will begin in December 2020.”
One of the sticking points in the negotiations was the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and Mr Davis said there was more work to be done here. It would be necessary to include legal text detailing the ‘backstop’ solution for the border in the Withdrawal Agreement that was acceptable to both sides.
“But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland, and therefore we will engage in detail on all the scenarios set out in the Joint Report,” he said.
“We have also reached consensus on the full set of issues which need to be addressed in any solution in order to avoid a hard border, which is why, last week, we set out a work programme to tackle them.”
In conclusion he said: “The deal we have struck today, on top of that agreed in December, should give us confidence that a good deal for the United Kingdom and the European Union is closer than ever before.”
Read the full statement here.