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EU publishes draft Withdrawal Agreement on Brexit, triggering strong disapproval of UK PM
Last Updated: 2018-03-01 08:16 | Xinhua
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Chief Brexit negotiator of the European Union (EU) Michel Barnier on Wednesday unveiled the union's draft Withdrawal Agreement on Brexit, calling on the two sides to accelerate "if we want to succeed in this negotiation".

It is an "important moment for negotiation", and "I would almost say a key or pivotal moment in this long complex process of this extraordinary negotiation that we want to succeed," Barnier told reporters at a press conference for the release.

The 119-page document, which sets out the arrangements for the withdrawal of Britain from the Union and from the European Atomic Energy Community, will be discussed over the coming weeks with the Council (Article 50) and the Brexit Steering Group of the European Parliament before transmission to the British authorities for negotiation.

Including 168 articles, the agreement "translates into legal terms the Joint Report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on the progress achieved during phase 1 of the negotiations, published on 8 December 2017, and proposes text for those outstanding withdrawal issues which are mentioned in, but not set out in detail, in the Joint Report", said EU in a statement after Barnier's conference.

Consisting of six parts, the document identified EU's redlines on such key issues as citizens' rights, financial settlement, transitional arrangements and the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, among others.

On citizens' rights, the agreement develops the Joint Report of December 8, 2017 and the EU-Britain Joint Technical note in more detail in order to fill in the blanks not expressly covered in the December document, and offers much more detail on safeguards to persons protected by the Joint Report.

In addition, the provisions of the draft Withdrawal Agreement on citizens' rights will apply as of the end of any transitional period, i.e. all EU citizens arriving in the Britain during this period should have exactly the same rights as EU citizens who arrived before the withdrawal, said the agreement.

After the end of the transition period, those EU citizens, and British citizens who arrive in an EU member state after withdrawal but before the end of the transition period, should be covered by the personal scope of the Withdrawal Agreement, it noted.

Britain requested a transition period of "around two years", which according to the agreement "shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020."

During the "two years", the entire Union acquis communautaire will continue to apply to Britain. This means that Britain will have to comply with the EU's trade policy and will continue to be bound by the Union's exclusive competence, in particular in respect of the Common Commercial Policy, said the agreement.

"As a result...the UK cannot become bound by new agreements on its own in areas of Union competence unless authorized to do so by the EU," said the agreement.

As to the financial settlement, the agreement translates into legal terms the agreement reached on December 8, 2017, between the EU and Britain on the terms of the financial settlement and includes certain practical modalities, such as payment deadlines, as proposed by the European Commission.

On the Irish border issue, the draft text spells out in detail how the principle of "regulatory alignment" agreed in last December would be implemented if Britain fails to find technological or diplomatic solutions to keeping the border open.

If such solutions are not found, "the territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom ... shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union," said the agreement.

"I hope that, thanks to this document, thanks to the negotiations we are about to have, we will continue to move as I wish towards an orderly withdrawal from the United Kingdom of the European Union," said Barnier.

However, London didn't echo Barnier's optimism as expected.

Answering questions in the Commons less than an hour after the publication of the text, British Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs that "The draft legal text the Commission have published would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, and no UK prime minister could ever agree to it."

"I will be making it crystal clear to (European Commission) President Juncker and others that we will never do so."

She said she stood by the deal struck in December, but left no doubt that she wants the withdrawal text rewritten, stating that British negotiators would talk to Brussels about how the Joint Report "should be translated into legal form in the withdrawal agreement".

The long-awaited Brexit talks was launched on June 19 2017, nearly one year after Britain voted to leave the bloc by a narrow margin on June 23, 2016.

May sent a notification letter to the EU in late March last year, triggering a two-year countdown to Britain's withdrawal of the bloc after more than 44 years of membership.

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