16 Jan

Brexit: Joint letter of President Tusk and President Juncker to Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The European Council has just released a joint letter of President Tusk and President Juncker to Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about the Brexit.

Key facts

This is the main content of the letter:

As you are well aware, we regret but respect the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. We also consider that Brexit is a source of uncertainty and disruption. In these challenging times, we therefore share with you the determination to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for citizens and companies in a situation where a Member State leaves the European Union after more than four decades of closest economic and political integration.

That is why the Withdrawal Agreement that you and the Leaders of the 27 EU Member States agreed after long negotiations is so important. It represents a fair compromise and aims to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, thereby limiting the negative consequences of Brexit.

That is also why we wish to establish as close as possible a relationship with the United Kingdom in the future, building on the Political Declaration, which the Leaders of the 27 EU Member States agreed with you. It is also why we want negotiations to this effect to start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

As you know, we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, but against this background, and in order to facilitate the next steps of the process, we are happy to confirm, on behalf of the two EU Institutions we represent, our understanding of the following points within our respective fields of responsibility.

In light of your letter, the European Commission would like to make the following clarifications with regard to the backstop:

– The Withdrawal Agreement including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland embodies the shared commitment by the European Union and the United Kingdom to address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland as part of ensuring the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

The Commission can confirm that, just like the United Kingdom, the European Union does not wish to see the backstop enter into force. Were it to do so, it would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides. The Commission can also confirm the European Union’s determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that would ensure the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.

– The European Commission can also confirm our shared understanding that the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland:

– Do not affect or supersede the provisions of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement of 10 April 1998 in any way whatsoever; they do not alter in any way the arrangements under Strand II of the 1998 Agreement in particular, whereby areas of North-South cooperation in areas within their respective competences are matters for the Northern Ireland Executive and Government of Ireland to determine;

Do not extend regulatory alignment with European Union law in Northern Ireland beyond what is strictly necessary to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the 1998 Agreement; the Withdrawal Agreement is also clear that any new act that the European Union proposes should be added to the Protocol will require the agreement of the United Kingdom in the Joint Committee;

Do not prevent the United Kingdom from facilitating, as part of its delegation, the participation of Northern Ireland Executive representatives in the Joint Committee, the Committee on issues related to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, or the joint consultative working group, in matters pertaining directly to Northern Ireland.

– The European Commission also shares your intentions for the future relationship to be in place as quickly as possible. Given our joint commitment to using best endeavours to conclude before the end of 2020 a subsequent agreement, which supersedes the Protocol in whole or in part, the Commission is determined to give priority in our work programme to the discussion of proposals that might replace the backstop with alternative arrangements. In this context, facilitative arrangements and technologies will be considered. Any arrangements which supersede the Protocol are not required to replicate its provisions in any respect, provided that the underlying objectives continue to be met.

– Should the parties need more time to negotiate the subsequent agreement, they could decide to extend the transition period, as foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement. In that case, the Commission is committed to redouble its efforts and expects the same redoubled efforts from your negotiators, with the aim of concluding a subsequent agreement very rapidly. Were the backstop to enter into force in whole or in part, it is intended to apply only temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement.

The Commission is committed to providing the necessary political impetus and resources to help achieving the objective of making this period as short as possible. To this end, following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, and until a subsequent agreement is concluded, the Commission will support making best use of the high level conference foreseen in the Political Declaration to meet at least every six months to take stock of progress and agree the appropriate actions to move forward.

– Finally, in response to your concern about the timetable, we would like to make it clear that both of us will be prepared to sign the Withdrawal Agreement as soon as the meaningful vote has passed in the United Kingdom Parliament. This will allow preparations for the future partnership with the United Kingdom immediately thereafter to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Letter of Presidents Tusk and Juncker to Prime Minister May. Click here to access the full content of the letter.

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