EU leaders have reached the final agreement on their Brexit proposal. The last version has confirmed the terms, that senior EU officials had already underlined several times – no trade deal until there is an agreement on other key issues. “All 27 of us today have confirmed the position we’re going to defend,” Michel Barnier, the main EU negotiator commented after the meeting. Referring to Theresa May’s popular line “Brexit mean Brexit”, Barnier said: “I do understand the UK has different positions, but as we’ve said, a negotiation is a negotiation.”
The final document contains 18 pages of legally binding instructions, which Barnier must follow. It is based on the guidelines adopted by the European Council on 29 April and the recommendation of the European Commission from 3 May.
The first part of the directives, includes instructions over the first phase of negotiations, emphasising on three key points: citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the situation in Ireland, as well as other matters where risk of legal uncertainty exists because of Brexit.
The Citizens’ Rights
The matter of the citizens’ rights is the number one priority for the EU27. They will insist the UK government to guarantee the rights of immigrants and their families, including the right to permanent residence after five years of legal residence. The same will apply for UK citizens living in the EU. The negotiating guidelines specify that the guarantees should cover workers, self-employed people, students, workers that work in one country but live in another, retired expatriates and families. Apart from residents’ rights, the guarantees should cover the right of free movement and other rights, such as health care.
The Financial Settlement
The value of the so called “divorce bill” has been put between €60bn and €100bn since the triggering of Article 50. There hasn’t been a definitive figure of the bill just yet, however, the issue has sparkled tension from both sides. Earlier this week, David Davis said in front of British media, that he is “ready to hit the ground running”, but warned that the UK may quit the negotiations if the EU demands a €100bn divorce bill. In an interview for ITV a few weeks ago, he also said that the UK will “come to the end of paying vast sum of money to the EU.” However, he had agreed that Britain should pay its legal obligation.
According to the final instructions, there “must be a single financial settlement and the UK must honour its share of all the obligations undertaken while being a member.” Some experts calculated these obligations estimate €55-75bn in net terms, including costs of moving London-based EU agencies and covering EU farm payments in 2019 and 2020.
After the meeting, Michel Barnier affirmed that he will not “seek upfront agreement on a final bill, but will seek detailed principles to be agreed on rights and money that could not be reopened at a later stage of talks.”
The situation of Ireland
The third key issue that the EU Council outlines in their final instructions, is the situation between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. After the peace treaty of 1996, both sides have established a soft border connection, and free movement of people and goods. Now with Brexit looming, politicians from both sides expressed fears that one of the disturbing consequences of the process will be the creation of new hard border. The leaders of Sin Fei had even talked about the possibilities of a referendum to split Northern Ireland from the UK and rejoin the Republic and the EU.
Therefore, in the EU27 guidelines, the situation of Ireland is addressed carefully and separated as a special case. “The EU is committed to continue to support peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Nothing in the UK withdrawal agreement should undermine the objectives and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. Negotiations should aim to avoid a hard border, while respecting EU law. Issues such as the transit of goods will need to be addressed,” the document said.
The Brexit negotiations will start on 19 June, exactly a year and a day after 52% of UK citizens voted in favour of Brexit.