British Prime Minister Theresa May has finally reached an agreement with the European Union on Brexit divorce terms.
The agreement, which comes more than a year after the Brits voted to leave the bloc, follows six months of intense talks and an all-night discussion with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the DUP, and the Irish government.
The 15-page deal includes certain guarantees on the future rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK, as well as a so-called “divorce bill” that could be as high as $67 billion USD (net figure). The EU also owes Britain its share of the European Investment Bank’s capital, which is estimated at roughly $50 billion. This amount will be paid back to the UK over the course of many years.
Britain has also agreed to pay “due regard” to rulings of the European Court of Justice, a promise that won’t sit will with Brexit-supporting members of the UK government who were under the impression that leaving the bloc meant Britain would be free from the influence of European courts.
The UK aims to leave EU single market and customs union, a move that would create two economies in Ireland and necessitate the establishment of a border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which will remain in the EU. Britain insists there will be no hard border.
A draft border deal was abandoned on Monday after Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) objected. May has to keep the DUP happy in order to keep her minority government from falling apart.
The issue was “somewhat papered over,” reports the Wall Street Journal, “although Britain accepted Irish demands of hard commitments to resolve the problem.”
“We have got a cast-iron guarantee from the British government that under no circumstances will we see a hard border,” said Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. “That was at the core of what we wanted.”
EU leaders will review the agreement next week and decide whether it represents “sufficient progress” to move on to the next phase of talks, which will focus on the future terms of trade between the EU and UK. These talks are expected to begin in January.
“Millions of jobs depend on the future trading relationships we will determine and I am optimistic about the discussions ahead,” said May.
Nigel Farage, the leading proponent of Brexit and former leader of the UK Independence Party, was less optimistic. The only significance of this week’s deal is that it means May’s government “can now move on to the next stage of humiliation,” he said.
The UK’s actual departure from the bloc won’t happen until 2019. From there, May is expected to ask for a two-year transition period in order to avoid financial hardship. The final trade agreement can only be signed after Britain officially leaves the EU.
EU Council President Donald Tusk is urging both parties to move forward with negotiations as fast as possible to provide certainty for concerned business owners who fear what might happen after Brexit. “We all know breaking up is hard, but breaking up and building a new relationship is harder,” said Tusk. “The most difficult challenge is still ahead.”
Editor’s note: This is still a tough battle and will continue to be. But this means there is no turning back.