Following on from the March European Council, the EU and UK agreed to five additional formal rounds of negotiations between April and the next European Council in June. These negotiations are focused on all outstanding issues in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the future relationship.
The UK has agreed that a backstop solution for the border will form part of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December. The UK has also agreed that all the issues identified in the EU draft of the Protocol will be addressed to deliver a legally sound solution for the border.
Prime Minister May confirmed this in her letter to President Tusk of 19 March, in addition to reiterating the UK's commitment last December to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and the gains of the peace process, including the overarching guarantee on avoiding a hard border.
The Government has always maintained that the backstop will apply unless and until another solution is found. While we share Prime Minister May's preference to resolve these issues through the wider agreement on the EU's future relationship with the UK, it is crucial that we have certainty in all scenarios on the commitments already made on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It is also the case that the UK’s repeatedly stated positions, including its wish to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, limit the depth of the future partnership and have consequences for the ability of the EU-UK future relationship agreement to deliver on all the commitments and guarantees provided by the UK with regard to protecting North South cooperation, the all island economy and the Good Friday Agreement, including avoiding a hard border.
Negotiations are ongoing, including detailed discussions between the EU and the UK on issues relating to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Significantly more progress is needed on agreeing the Protocol, including the backstop on avoiding a hard border, ahead of the June European Council.
The EU has always made clear that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and that negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full. The European Council is therefore continuing to follow the negotiations closely and will return in particular to the remaining withdrawal issues, including the Protocol, and to the framework for the future relationship at its next meeting in June. It is essential that real and substantial progress be made by the June European Council meeting.
The objective of the negotiators is that the full legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, and a detailed political declaration on the framework for the future relationship, should be concluded by the October European Council. This limited timeframe underlines the urgency of the work ahead in the coming weeks.