UK wins Brexit transition deal in return for Irish vow

Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty. Photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium, June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/Illustration/Files

Reuters – Britain and the European Union agreed on Monday to a transition period to avoid a “cliff edge” Brexit next year — though only after London accepted a potential solution for Northern Ireland’s land border that may face stiff opposition at home.

The pound surged on confirmation that Britain would remain effectively a non-voting EU member for 21 months until the end of 2020. Some business leaders, however, echoed a warning from EU negotiator Michel Barnier that the deal is legally binding only if London agrees the whole withdrawal treaty by next March.

Both sides are committed to keeping a free flow of people and goods over the intra-Irish border without returning to checkpoints, as during the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland. However, finding a practical solution for any customs checks needed post-Brexit has proved elusive so far.

Davis agreed with Barnier that Monday’s agreement was “decisive” and increased the odds on finding an orderly deal to avoid Europe’s second biggest economy simply crashing out of the bloc in just over a year. He hailed the certainty that the deals on the transition and other issues, including rights for expatriate citizens, would offer businesses and individuals.

The two sides issued a new, 129-page draft withdrawal treaty that was awash with green highlighter denoting final agreement on large areas of the legal text, including transition. Diplomats put the level of “green” agreement at over 80 percent.

The pound rose as much as one percent against the dollar to $1.4088, its strongest since Feb. 16.

Davis, who unlike May campaigned for Brexit, said he was pleased with EU agreement to let Britain negotiate and sign trade deals with other countries while remaining covered by EU common trade policy during the transition. Those deals would then take effect once Britain was free to do so in 2021.

He also welcomed wording that gives Britain some say in EU policy during the transition, notably on fishing quotas, and an ability to refuse to implement things it did not agree with — some of his Conservative party allies have complained that the transition deal would leave Britain a “vassal state” of the EU.

The Leave Means Leave campaign accused him of “caving in” on the Irish border. Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage said “Theresa the Appeaser” had “let people down again” by agreeing to EU demands to keep free immigration during the transition.