Brexit deal: what the draft political declaration between the UK and EU means

Our chief political commentator assesses the new wording in the 26-page version of the document, compared with the seven-page draft published last week

Theresa May makes statement on Brexit from Downing Street

What the political declaration says: The future relationship will be based on a balance of rights and obligations, taking into account the principles of each party. This balance must ensure the autonomy of the Union’s decision making and be consistent with the Union’s principles, in particular with respect to the integrity of the single market and the customs union and the indivisibility of the four freedoms.

What it really means: The fourth paragraph of the draft goes right to the heart of the problem. The first half talks about the “indivisibility of the four freedoms” – namely goods, services, capital and labour.

What the document says: It must also ensure the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and the protection of its internal market, while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to the development of its independent trade policy and the ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.

What it really means: The next sentence of the same paragraph puts up in lights that “free movement of people” will end. In the previous version, this was buried so deep some experts missed it. But if the freedoms are indivisible, that means the UK cannot have free movement of goods, services and capital. That contradiction is not solved by the rest of the document.

What the document says: The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors, with ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the parties’ objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the withdrawal agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.

What it really means: The sentence in the first draft that caused Dominic Raab to resign as Brexit secretary is still in there, about building on the single customs territory, only now it has “and improve” in as well, as if that makes it better from the point of view of someone who doesn’t want a single customs territory (fudgespeak for a customs union).

What the document says: The parties envisage that the extent of the United Kingdom’s commitments on customs and regulatory cooperation, including with regard to alignment of rules, would be taken into account in the application of related checks and controls, considering this as a factor in reducing risk.

What it really means: This paragraph referring to “checks and controls” cleverly leaves out “at the border” from last week’s version. This is an important win for Theresa May, in allowing future regulatory checks to be carried out at the point of despatch or arrival.

What the document says: Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the parties should establish mobility arrangements, as set out below.

What it really means: The section on mobility now starts by asserting that “free movement of persons” will come to an end. Someone has joked that “freedom of movement” is being replaced by “liberty of mobility”, but that is not (yet) fair.

What the document says: The parties agree to consider conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges.

What it really means: Specifying the possible purposes for which EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU might “stay” is new.

What the document says: Within the context of the overall economic partnership the parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.

What it really means: Scottish Conservative MPs warned the prime minister that they could not accept fishing quota shares being included in the future trade deal. But they have been. More trouble ahead.

What the document says: Both parties affirm that the achievements, benefits and commitments of the peace process in Northern Ireland will remain of paramount importance to peace, stability and reconciliation. They agree that the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement reached on 10 April 1998 by the United Kingdom government, the Irish government and the other participants in the multi-party negotiations must be protected in all its parts, and that this extends to the practical application of the 1998 agreement on the island of Ireland and to the totality of the relationships set out in the 1998 agreement.

What it really means: The explicit reference to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement has been added, and the phrase “must be protected in all its parts”. But this won’t be enough to reassure the DUP or Conservatives worried about Northern Ireland being kept in parts of the EU single market when the rest of the UK is not.

What the document says: In setting out the framework of the future relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom, this declaration confirms, as set out in the withdrawal agreement, that it is the clear intent of both parties to develop in good faith agreements giving effect to this relationship and to begin the formal process of negotiations as soon as possible after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union, such that they can come into force by the end of 2020.

What it really means: The section on the timetable for negotiating the full trade treaty has been expanded, but with little actual substance. Instead of “using best endeavours to ensure” the treaty can take effect by the end of 2020, it now speaks of the “intent … to develop in good faith”. Which sounds a bit weaker to me, but I’m not an international trade negotiator. As Nick Macpherson, the former permanent secretary to the Treasury, commented: “With no legal status a political declaration can be all things to all people.”

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