EU sets out deep ties with key wins for May in draft Brexit deal


BRUSSELS • The UK and the European Union (EU) have agreed to the final bit of their Brexit deal, setting out a vision for close economic ties in a draft that hands Prime Minister Theresa May some key political wins.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the draft, which was obtained by Bloomberg, had been agreed in principle, pending leaders’ sign off on Sunday. May briefed her Cabinet and spoke outside of her office briefly.

“A deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it,” May told television cameras.

The pound surged as investors saw the final stage of negotiations falling into place.

May’s challenge now is to convince a sceptical Parliament to back it in a vote that will probably take place next month.

The deal offers May some points to help her sell it at home. First, it gives many businesses what they wanted as it points the way to easy trade for goods, calling for “a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation”. For Brexiteers — her most vocal opponents — it hints that the UK will be able to pursue its own trade policy and also stop free movement of people.

It also offers a way out of the most toxic part of the divorce deal — the Irish backstop that opponents of all political colours oppose as it risks keeping the UK shackled to the EU’s orbit indefinitely.

And for Brexiteers, there’s also a line about how technology will come into own in the future, solving problems that hardlines have long said tech could fix.

Now, it depends whether May’s opponents want to be convinced or not. The text isn’t legally binding, unlike the treaty that governs the divorce, which it where the most unpalatable bits of the agreement are nestled.

European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told reporters that the issue of Gibraltar — a sticking point because of Spanish claims — and fishing access still needed to be agreed and the ball is now in the court of EU member states.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also appeared to cast doubt on the idea that the deal was done, saying the Irish issue was still a stumbling block.

May is due back in Brussels tomorrow for a meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker before a key summit with other leaders on Sunday. That’s when the leaders are expected to sign off, though Merkel has made clear that if the text isn’t done by then, she doesn’t want to go.

The Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.

It should “build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.

Financial services ties to be based on equivalence. Work will start as soon as possible to avoid disruption. Parties to explore possibility of cooperation between the UK and regulatory agencies such as EMA, EASA.

On the Irish backstop: The parties recall their determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.

In another boost for Brexiteers, the draft refers to “all available facilitative arrangements and technologies”, to ease customs procedures.