EU and UK reach initial agreement on citizens’ rights, no Irish border and divorce settlement

EU and UK reach initial agreement on citizens' rights, no Irish border and divorce settlement
British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker address a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels on December 8. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP
The groundbreaking agreement follows an intense 24 hours of negotiations and includes major breakthroughs on citizenship rights and the Irish-Northern Irish border issue. Most of all, it rebuilds confidence in the negotiations.

A jointly-authored document released on Friday December 8th highlights a slate of breakthroughs in what appeared very unlikely just over a week ago.

“Both Parties have reached agreement in principle across the following three areas under consideration in the first phase of negotiations, on which further detail is set out in this report: a. protecting the rights of Union citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the Union; b. the framework for addressing the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland; and c. the financial settlement,” states the communiqué.

The agreement pledges to protect the rights of the 1.2 million British citizens living in the EU and the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Good news potentially too for the 27,000-30,000 Brits living in Italy. 

“The overall objective of the Withdrawal Agreement with respect to citizens' rights is to provide reciprocal protection for Union and UK citizens, to enable the effective exercise of rights derived from Union law and based on past life choices, where those citizens have exercised free movement rights by the specified date,” adds the statement

It remains unclear however whether UK citizens, for example, will retain the right to free movement within the EU. Reciprocal recognition of qualifications also remains an outstanding issue. 

“This deal is even worse than we expected,” Jane Golding, chair of the citizens' lobby British in Europe, told The Local in a statement via email.
“After 18 months of wrangling the UK and EU have sold 4.5 million people down the river in a grubby bargain that will have a severe impact on ordinary people’s ability to live their lives as we do now. This is a double disaster for British people living in Europe,” added Golding. 
MORE INFO: To find out more about citizens' rights, sign up for The Local Europe's Brexit & You weekly newsletter 
On the issue of how Irish-Northern Irish relations might be affected, the document is quite clear. “The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border,” it states, adding that the UK will continue to respect Ireland's EU commitments. Both parties will use the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement as a benchmark for relations. 
The new agreement also practically rules out the potential of tariffs on trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which should quell some of the uncertainty for businesses and citizens both sides of the border. 

The document also establishes a “methodology” for the financial settlement the UK should pay. While the text outlines several criteria for calculating the final sum, no sum is mentioned. The UK will continue to contribute to EU budgets until 2020. 

Talking at a joint press conference with Theresa May on December 8th, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he has formerly “decided to recommend to the European Council that sufficient progress has now been made on the strict terms of the divorce.”

He added he was “confident, sure” that leaders of the EU27 bloc – who still need to endorse the agreement – would accept the terms. 

READ MORE: Milan loses out to Amsterdam to host European Medicines Agency