Last week, the British Government and the EU task force team, led by Michel Barnier, agreed a draft withdrawal agreement together with the outline of a political declaration on the future relationship. This is a very significant and welcome breakthrough in the Brexit process. An extraordinary European Council summit will be held on Sunday, 25 November so that the agreement, together with the political declaration, can be endorsed. The political declaration will be a much bigger document by then. A preparatory meeting of the EU General Affairs Council, which I attended, was held yesterday.
The EU and UK negotiators have worked intensively over a long period to achieve this and I offer them all my congratulations and thanks for the work they have done. In particular, Michel Barnier and his team have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and understanding. This outcome would not have been achieved without the unity and solidarity of EU member states and institutions.
The draft agreement, notably the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, meets Ireland’s objectives. It protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process. Importantly, nothing in the agreement will prejudice the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent as set out in the Good Friday Agreement. The withdrawal agreement translates the UK’s political commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland into a legal guarantee. It provides for a backstop that will apply unless and until another solution is agreed. This means that there will be no hard border in any circumstances. That said, we hope that the backstop will never be used and that we can resolve the Border issues through a future relationship agreement that is both comprehensive and generous.
The withdrawal agreement underpins, in a dynamic way, continuing North-South co-operation and the all-island economy. It provides for the maintenance of the common travel area and protects the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement on rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity. It also confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy the rights of EU citizens. The agreement also provides for a period of transition, which can be extended, in which preparations can be made for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. We are committed to working with the UK and our EU partners to secure a future relationship that is as deep and comprehensive as possible. Once the European Council has given its endorsement to the agreement, it will be for the British and European Parliaments to consider and approve it in accordance with their respective procedures.
We will have a four hour debate on this issue in the House tomorrow, with the opportunity to vote on the detail of the draft agreement at the end of that debate.