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Deal (Mostly) Struck Over Brexit Terms After Months Of Negotiations

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (right) and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis announced their progress Monday at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday.
Virginia Mayo
European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (right) and British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis announced their progress Monday at EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday.

Negotiators from the U.K. and the EU says they have reached a provisional agreement on how Britain will withdraw from the EU.

The agreement allows for a nearly two-year transition period, ending on Dec. 31, 2020. The U.K. is set to leave the EU in March 2019 and that transition period is designed to ease the shift.

But major questions are still up in the air after months of negotiations, most prominently how to handle the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. The draft agreement is set to be considered by EU leaders later this week.

At a press conference, EU negotiator Michel Barnier hailed this draft legal text as a "decisive step, because we were able this morning to agree, and after all those days and nights of hard work, or what will make up an international agreement for the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom."

Essentially, as Reuters put it, today's deal means that "Britain will remain as effectively a non-voting EU member" during that time.

Markets rallied after the announcement, The Financial Times reported, "with sterling climbing above $1.40 against the dollar to reach its highest level in three weeks."

If approved, it would prevent a "cliff-edge exit," a scenario in which the U.K. does not reach firm agreement with the EU on the terms before its exit.

U.K.'s Brexit Minister David Davis said that this would allow businesses to plan. "Businesses need not delay investment decisions, or rush through contingency plans based on guesses about the future deal," Davis said. "Instead they now have certainty about the terms that will apply immediately after our withdrawal."

The deal would allow the U.K. to make trade deals that would enter into force after the transition period ends, Davis said. During the transition period, agreements dating from the U.K.'s EU membership would continue to apply.

In terms of diplomacy and defense, Davis also stated that this agreement sets the stage for an "ambitious partnership" that "goes beyond the relationship the European Union has with any other third country."

And the fate of EU citizens in the U.K. has been clarified in this draft. "British citizens and [citizens of the EU-27] who arrive during the transition period will receive the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before the day of Brexit," Barnier told reporters, according to The Guardian.

That's a shift from what British Prime Minister Theresa May had previously insisted on, the newspaper adds: that EU citizens "arriving during the transition period would be treated differently to those already in the U.K."

The 129-page draft agreement is composed mostly of text highlighted in green, indicating that the negotiators have agreed. A section on Ireland and Northern Ireland is primarily yellow or white, showing that it is still under discussion.

But according to the agreement, the negotiators agreed to what has been termed a "backstop" solution for the border.

That emergency backstop, according to The Financial Times, would "keep Northern Ireland in key parts of the single market and the EU's customs union" unless another solution is found.

Last month, as NPR's Lauren Frayer reported, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said that no British Prime Minister could ever accept that policy, which would "undermine the U.K. common market and threaten constitution integrity of the U.K. by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea."

Davis stressed today that there is "yet no agreement on the right operational approach." He added that he hopes "to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland."

With regard to fishing, the agreement also provides "specific safeguards when it comes to annual fishing negotiations," Davis said.

Fisheries had been hoping for more leverage prior to the end of the transition period. According to The Guardian, leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson said, "That we now have to wait until 2020 to assume full control is an undoubted disappointment. Having spoken to fishing leaders today, I know they are deeply frustrated with this outcome."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.