The UK has struck a deal on the terms of the Brexit transition period after making a series of concessions to Brussels and accepting a “back stop” plan of keeping Northern Ireland under EU law to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
After an intense few days and nights of talks, Brexit secretary David Davis said agreement on the terms of the 21-month period, ending on 31 December 2020, was a “significant” moment, which would give businesses and citizens the reassurance they needed.
The UK will retain the benefits of the single market and customs union for “near enough to the two years we asked for”, Davis said, albeit while losing its role in any decision-making institutions.
Liam Fox, the secretary for international trade, will also be allowed to sign new trade deals to come into force in 2021.
However, the British government has had to accept defeat on a series of demands, including on the prime minister’s very public insistence that citizens arriving during the transition period would be treated differently to those already in the UK.
“British citizens and European citizens of the 27 who arrive during the transition period will receive the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before the day of Brexit,” said the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, during a joint press conference on the latest draft of the withdrawal agreement.
May has repeatedly insisted that the rights offered had to be “different” for those “coming to a UK they know will be outside the EU”.
Most contentiously, Barnier said that the UK had agreed that in relation to Northern Ireland the withdrawal agreement will retain a default solution to avoid a hard border under which the north and south of the island of Ireland would remain in regulatory alignment.