On Thursday November 22, the EU and the UK agreed on a draft 26-page political declaration that calls for an “ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership” between the UK and the EU after Brexit.
On trade, the political declaration sets out a commitment to negotiate “a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”
On Northern Ireland, the document says “The Parties recall their determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.” Tying in with the future customs relationship, the political declaration leaves the door open to the possibility of using facilitative arrangements and technologies to develop alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border.
On financial services, both parties pledge to begin proceedings to assess “equivalence” of each other’s rules immediately after Brexit day.
On movement of people, there is a commitment to “establish mobility arrangements … based on non-discrimination between the Union’s Member States and full reciprocity.” These would allow visa-free travel or short-term visits and both sides “agree to consider conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges.”
On Sunday November 25, the European Council approved the political declaration and restated the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future. Reflecting on the essence of the special meeting of the European Council, President Tusk noted, “Ahead of us is the difficult process of ratification as well as further negotiations. But regardless of how it will all end, one thing is certain: we will remain friends until the end of days, and one day longer.”
In his comments, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that Malta will maintain its excellent relations with the UK once it leaves the EU, and citizens will not lose any rights they have had before the Brexit deal was passed. However, Malta is losing an ally at EU level, and “like-minded member states need to work together to safeguard their status on issues such as financial and economic affairs”.
Next steps in the UK:
The House of Commons must vote to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration before it can be ratified and come into effect, with a ‘take note’ motion in the House of Lords. Prime Minister Theresa May expects the vote to be taken before the end of 2018 after a crucial national debate.
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