EU expects May to sign deal today
Brussels sources say Brexit agreement is ‘close’ to completion with Irish border issues ironed out
THERESA MAY was last night understood to be finalising a Brexit deal with the European Union that will unlock talks on trade and Britain’s future relationship with Europe, sources in Brussels told The Daily Telegraph.
The Prime Minister was working into the night to get final sign-offs from Belfast, Dublin and Brussels on the new text of a “divorce agreement” after talks broke down on Monday.
Three separate Brussels sources said last night that they were hopeful that, barring any last-minute slip-ups, Mrs May would arrive in Belgium as early as this morning to finalise the deal.
Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for Jean-claude Juncker, confirmed last night that the European Commission president had spoken to both Mrs May and Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, and that an “early morning meeting [is] possible”.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, announced that he would make a statement on Brexit at 6.50am today, before the financial markets open, prompting speculation that he could announce a deal has been done. A previously unscheduled meeting of the European Parliament Brexit working group was arranged for 7.30am today.
A senior EU diplomatic source said that the deal was “close but not confirmed”, while an Irish official told Reuters that events were “moving quickly” and that a deal was just “hours away”.
Mrs May was understood to be preparing to seek a final sign-off on the new text from Mr Varadkar and Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party who exercised a veto on the previous deal on Monday.
The contours of the new deal emerged three days after Mrs May was forced to cancel a previous agreement at the 11th hour in Brussels. The Telegraph understands that a new “agreed text” was communicated to Mr Tusk by Mrs May late yesterday afternoon. A Whitehall source said a text was being circulated and was “being amended all the time”.
Late last night DUP sources in Belfast said there was still “work to do tomorrow”. However, the DUP’S Westminster team was said to have agreed the wording, after Nigel Dodds, the party’s Westminster leader, spent the day in talks with Government officials.
British officials urged caution, mindful of the sensitivity of an issue that has soured relations between London and Dublin and threatened to create an impasse in the negotiations. Yesterday afternoon EU sources told The Telegraph the deal was “done” and that Mrs May was expected to arrive in Brussels first thing this morning in order to seal the deal. British officials denied any immediate travel plans, saying the Prime Minister would only travel to Brussels if there was a rock-solid agreement.
The text was being kept a secret after leaks of the previous compromise language offering to ensure regulatory “alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unravelled the agreement. The Telegraph understands the text will concentrate on offering additional assurances to the DUP that will help to reduce concerns that Northern Ireland will be forced to adopt a “special status” compared with the rest of the UK. Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, used the phrase “regulatory equivalence” to describe the Irish border deal, providing a clue to the wording that could replace the contested phrase of “regulatory alignment”.
He told the BBC the UK could have laws that had a similar goal and effect as EU laws, without being forced to mirror them exactly, or become a rule-taker from the EU – a key demand of Brexiteers who want to preserve the UK’S options to conduct an independent trade policy.
CHILDREN of EU couples living in Britain who are born after Brexit will be guaranteed the same rights as their parents in a fresh concession by Theresa May, according to a leaked document seen by The Daily Telegraph.
The children’s rights will be protected even if they are born abroad, giving them superior rights to the offspring of Britons who start a family abroad with a non-eu partner.
However, Mrs May has won a victory for British citizens currently living in the EU, as they will be allowed to retain freedom of movement within the bloc after Brexit, something Brussels had previously refused to sanction.
It came as Boris Johnson warned Mrs May that any deal on the Irish border must not interfere with “the whole of the UK taking back control of its borders”.
As Mrs May worked into the night to put the finishing touches to a divorce agreement that could be announced as early as today, a leaked draft of a Euro- pean Parliament resolution on the Brexit talks provided an insight into some of the things the final agreement is likely to contain.
It makes clear the EU will demand that the UK fully implements all EU laws and court judgments during a transition period, while in trade it warns that the EU will guard aggressively against any UK attempt to seek competitive advantage over tax or workers’ rights.
On security and defence, the document leaves the door open for close EU-UK cooperation, but only if the UK adheres to EU protocols on secrecy, data-sharing and human rights.
It also rules out any role for the UK in decision-making on EU foreign and security policy.
According to the eight-page draft document obtained by The Telegraph, Britain has agreed that EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit will be allowed to bring family members and spouses into the UK if they were in a long-standing relationship.
According to the text, the UK has agreed that “core family members and persons in a durable relationship currently residing outside (Britain) shall be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement and that this is also the case for children born in the future and outside (Britain)”.
The UK has also, according to the draft, accepted that EU citizens can “export all exportable benefits” as defined by EU legislation after the country leaves the European Union.
This would be a step backwards from the agreement won by David Cameron to curb the rights of EU citizens to collect and send home child benefit payments for children not living in the UK – though that agreement lapsed when the UK voted for Brexit in June 2016.
However, in a “win” for UK negotiators, EU citizens who wed non-british spouses after the Brexit transition period will not be able to confer the benefits of the deal to them, because future marriages do not appear to be covered by the guarantee.
In another apparent compromise, Britain also appears to have agreed EU families can apply for “settled status” on a single form, reducing the cost and paperwork involved.
The UK had suggested EU nationals should pay £75 a head to register, although MEPS still want the process to be free.
In a concession that provoked the ire of several leading Tory Brexiteers, including Iain Duncan Smith, the draft reports that the UK has “accepted the competence of the (European Court of Justice) in relation to the interpretation of the Withdrawal Treaty”.
EU sources have clarified with The Telegraph that this will apply to the law underpinning the rights granted to EU citizens in the UK, and ensure that the UK Supreme Court will not be able to make rulings that alter European Union case law.
The decision to write the Withdrawal Agreement directly into UK law also creates a “direct effect”, which is to enable EU citizens to take cases to court directly if they feel their rights under the agreement are being infringed.
Yesterday Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made his position on the Irish border question clear when he answered questions from journalists following a foreign policy speech in London.
Mr Johnson, in common with the DUP, was unhappy with a passage in a draft divorce agreement that called for “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The phrase derailed talks between the Prime Minister and Jean-claude Juncker, the European Commission president, on Monday because it was interpreted as meaning that either Northern Ireland was going to leave the EU on different terms to the rest of Britain or the whole of the UK was heading for a “soft” Brexit by yoking itself to Brussels.
Mr Johnson said: “Whatever way we devise for getting on to the body of the [Brexit] talks, it’s got to be consistent with the whole of the United Kingdom taking back control of our laws, of our borders and of our cash.”