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May wins ‘improved’ Brexit deal but it may not be enough for MPs

Theresa May has called for MPs to “come together” to back her deal after claiming to have secured the legally binding changes parliament wanted to ensure the EU cannot trap the UK in the Irish backstop and a permanent customs union.

But within minutes of the start of a late-night joint press conference in Strasbourg, those words rang hollow, as Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, conceded the EU had not agreed to the prime minister’s central demand.

Quick guide

Last-minute backstop changes explained

What was added to May’s withdrawal agreement?

Joint interpretative instrument

A legal add-on to the withdrawal agreement. It gives legal force to a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the presidents of the commission and council, given to May in January. This stated the EU’s intention to negotiate an alternative to the backstop so it would not be triggered, or, if it was triggered, to get out of it as quickly as possible.

Unilateral statement from the UK

Sets out the British position that, if the backstop was to become permanent and talks on an alternative were going nowhere, the UK believes it would be able to exit the arrangement.

Additional language in political declaration

Emphasises the urgency felt on both sides to negotiate an alternative to the backstop, and flesh out what a technological fix would look like. Hoped to be enough to persuade the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, to change his initial legal advice that the backstop could be in place indefinitely. Daniel Boffey

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Juncker told reporters that a freshly negotiated legal add-on to the Brexit deal, emphasising the temporary nature of the Irish backstop, “complements the withdrawal agreement without reopening it”.

He added that the new text was in “spirit and letter by letter” in accord with the EU’s commitment to an insurance policy from which he has repeatedly insisted neither side could unilaterally withdraw.

11 March 2019 TF50 (2019) 61 – Commission to EU 27 Subject: Instrument relating to the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community. Origin: European Commission, Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU. Published on the TF50 website on 11 March 2019 INSTRUMENT RELATING TO THE AGREEMENT ON THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE EUROPEAN ATOMIC ENERGY COMMUNITY The Union and the United Kingdom: Reiterate the parties’ wish to establish a future partnership that is as close and strong as possible, given the global challenges they share, and underline their commitment to embark on preparations immediately after the signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations on the future relationship can start as soon as possible after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal. Recall the exchange of letters of 14 January 2019 between the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the clarifications set out therein. Recall that the parties do not wish the backstop solution in the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to become applicable, that were it to do so it would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides, and that both parties are therefore determined to replace the backstop solution for Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that would ensure, on a permanent footing, the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, in full respect of the integrity of the Union’s internal market and of the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. Underline that the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will be subject to regular reviews in order for the Parties to consider whether that Protocol is still necessary or could cease to apply in whole or in part. Recall that after the end of the transition period, any dispute concerning compliance with Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement, Articles 2(1) and 20 of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland will be subject to the dispute settlement mechanism enshrined in Articles 167 to 181 of the Withdrawal Agreement. Note that this instrument provides, in the sense of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a clear and unambiguous statement by both parties to the Withdrawal Agreement of what they agreed in a number of provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Therefore, it constitutes a document of reference that will have to be made use of if any issue arises in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. To this effect, it has legal force and a binding character. A. IN RELATION TO ARTICLE 5 OF THE WITHDRAWAL AGREMENT AND ARTICLE 2(1) OF THE PROTOCOL ON IRELAND/NORTHERN IRELAND Negotiations on the future agreement and replacement of the Protocol in whole or in part 1. The Union and the United Kingdom recall their commitment to ensure, in full mutual respect and good faith, the fulfilment of the obligations arising from the Withdrawal Agreement. 2. The preamble of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland ( “ the Protocol ” ) records the “Union’s and the United Kingdom’s intention 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”, while protecting the integrity of the Union’s internal market and the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. 3. Article 2(1) of the Protocol contains the obligation for the Union and the United Kingdom to “use their best endeavours to conclude, by 31 December 2020, an agreement which supersedes this Protocol in whole or in part” . 4. The Union and the United Kingdom consider that, for example, a systematic refusal to take into consideration adverse proposals or interests, would be incompatible with their obligations under Article 2(1) of the Protocol and Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement. 5. In light of their obligation under Article 2(1) of the Protocol, the Union and the United Kingdom will start negotiations on a subsequent agreement as soon as possible after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union. Those negotiations should be conducted as a matter of priority, and efforts redoubled should the negotiations not be concluded within 1 year from the date of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal. 6. In order to enable the rapid commencement of and progress in those formal negotiations, the Union and the United Kingdom commit, in line with paragraphs 141 to 143 of the political declaration agreed between them in November 2018, to embark on preparations for those negotiations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement, including by setting up their respective negotiating structures and discussing logistical arrangements. The Union and the United Kingdom are therefore committed to working speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to…

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