The European Union and United Kingdom Brexit negotiators jointly published the first version of the “Withdrawal Agreement” setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. In a visible three-color document, the text highlights the issues formally agreed between the negotiators (in green), the points agreed at political level but still requiring clarifications (in yellow) and the provisions on which discussions are ongoing (in white).
The green text includes agreed legal provisions for the transition period and citizens’ rights. The transition phase will start on the date of entry into force of the Withdrawal Agreement (presumably on the Brexit date – 29 March 2019) and end on 31 December 2020. During this time, EU rules will continue to apply to the UK as if it were a Member State. In what has been read as a concession, the UK will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify trade agreements with non-EU countries. However, those agreements will not be implemented before the end of the transition period.
One important clarification refers to residence rights for citizens and their timing: EU27 citizens, UK nationals and their family members who resided in the UK or in the remaining Member States before the end of the transition period will be able to claim a permanent residency status from the beginning of the transition.
The most difficult issue to reach agreement on remains the issue of how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland once the UK exits the EU Single Market. The situation remains open on this point, which stays highlighted in yellow in the Draft Treaty, pending the UK proposals for alternative options to those proposed by the EU, which have been labelled as unacceptable for now.
The Withdrawal Agreement should ideally be finalized by October 2018 in order to allow enough time to obtain the endorsement of the EU and UK parliaments before the exit date in March 2019. As it is known, this agreement must be differentiated from the agreement setting out provisions for the future EU–UK relations, a free trade agreement or an association agreement. Such a text can only be signed once the UK withdraws from the EU. The idea is to have some political declaration including the main lines of this future agreement, to be approved by both parties at the time of the final approval of the Withdrawal Agreement. This is accepted in principle, but the UK expects to see a high level of detail on that declaration, while the EU has repeatedly anticipated that such a text will not go into a detail that is impossible for the time being. Six months remain to see who is right.