10 key sentences from the Brexit document and what they really mean

The UK and EU negotiators can now move on to the next phase of talks after coming to an agreement this morning

Brexit: Theresa May agrees breakthrough Irish border deal with EU leaders

The text agreed this morning finally unlocked progress to the second stage of the Brexit talks. Barring an unexpected last-minute veto at the EU summit next Thursday and Friday, it means the EU-UK negotiators can move on to discussing the trade relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit, and the terms of the transition period that will immediately follow our departure from the EU in March 2019.

So what were the important words in the document, the “Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the UK Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the UK's orderly withdrawal from the European Union”?

1. “The overall objective of the Withdrawal Agreement with respect to citizens' rights is to provide reciprocal protection for Union and UK citizens, to enable the effective exercise of rights derived from Union law and based on past life choices, where those citizens have exercised free movement rights by the specified date [29 March 2019].”

The text agrees that EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the rest of the EU by the date of Brexit will keep their current rights. It defines who they are and how rights can be shared with family members.

2. “Social security coordination rules set out in Regulations (EC) No 883/2004 and (EC) No 987/2009 will apply.”

In other words, EU citizens here will be entitled to tax credits or universal credit on the same terms as UK citizens: the restrictions negotiated by David Cameron have been dropped.

3. “In the context of the application or interpretation of those rights, UK courts shall therefore have due regard to relevant decisions of the Court of Justice of the EU [CJEU] after the specified date [29 March 2019]. The Agreement should also establish a mechanism enabling UK courts or tribunals to decide, having had due regard to whether relevant case-law exists, to ask the CJEU questions of interpretation of those rights where they consider that a CJEU ruling on the question is necessary for the UK court or tribunal to be able to give judgment in a case before it.”

In interpreting the law on citizens’ rights, the UK courts could decide to ask the CJEU (otherwise known as the ECJ, the European Court of Justice) for clarification.

4. “This mechanism should be available for UK courts or tribunals for litigation brought within eight years from the [exit] date.”

You would have thought the Brexiters would be happy with a procedure controlled by UK courts, which would apply to a handful of cases, but Theresa May insisted on a time limit. She wanted five years; the EU offered 10; they agreed on eight.

5. “On ongoing Union judicial procedures, both Parties have agreed that the CJEU should remain competent for UK judicial procedures registered at the CJEU on the date of withdrawal, and that those procedures should continue through to a binding judgment.”

The UK has agreed to be bound by the EU court in all cases started before we leave.

6. “Ireland and Northern Ireland: The UK remains committed to … its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. … The UK's intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the UK will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

This is the bit that caused trouble, first with the Irish government and then with the Democratic Unionist Party. The wording has not changed significantly since Monday, but the DUP has a better understanding that “full alignment” is a promise for what happens in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

7. “In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the UK will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland.”

This is the new wording that gives the DUP a guarantee that a no-deal Brexit would not mean barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. How on earth that can be made to work is to be decided at a later date.

8. “Both Parties have agreed a methodology for the financial settlement.”

Which is then set out in mind-numbing detail. No one knows how much it will be, but it is probably about £25-35bn on top of the £20bn of annual contributions that we would continue to pay during the transition period, when we will still be EU members in all but name.

9. “Following withdrawal from the Union, the UK will continue to participate in the Union programmes financed by the MFF 2014-2020 until their closure (excluding participation in financial operations which give rise to a contingent liability for which the UK is not liable as from the date of withdrawal).”

This means we continue to make contributions to the EU until the end of 2020, which is the end of the seven-year budgeting period. In effect, this means we have signed up for a transition period of at least 21 months (March 2019 to December 2020), even though we are not supposed to be discussing the transition until stage two of the talks.

10. “On Euratom-related (nuclear specific) issues both Parties have agreed principles for addressing the key separation issues relating to the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. This includes agreement that the UK will be responsible for international nuclear safeguards in the UK and is committed to a future regime that provides coverage and effectiveness equivalent to existing Euratom arrangements.”

We shall not be members of Euratom but we will have “equivalent” arrangements – in other words, we carry on as we are, but have no say in future EU nuclear policy.

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