Brexit secretary David Davis has hailed the UK’s transitional period deal amid accusations the government has ‘surrendered’.
At a joint press conference the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said a decisive step had been taken.
‘What we are presenting to you today, here with David, is a legal text,’ he said. ‘A joint legal text which constitutes in my mind a decisive step because we were able this morning to agree, and after all those days and nights of hard work, on a large part of what will make up an international agreement for the ordered withdrawal of the United Kingdom.
‘A decisive step remains a step, we are not at the end of the road and there is a lot of work still to be done on important subjects including Ireland and Northern Ireland.’
On the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, Barnier said the two sides had agreed how the issue would be dealt with during the remaining negotiations.
He said they had agreed that the EU’s ‘back stop position’ which would see Northern Ireland effectively remain part of the single market if there was no wider agreement, would form part of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement.
‘The backstop will apply unless and until another solution is found,’ he said.
But this arrangement will worry the DUP – the party propping up Theresa May’s government – who have demanded Northern Ireland must not have different rules to the rest of the UK post Brexit.
Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: ‘Despite once claiming they held all the cards in the negotiations, in the end the Brexiteers have been prepared to compromise and surrender on almost every single point.
‘On the divorce bill, on the primacy of European law, on freedom of movement, on fisheries, the government has yet again capitulated. We should be in no doubt that this will be the shape of things to come in the negotiations over the future relationship.
‘With no clarity on what Britain wants from the negotiations and with the prospect of a cliff-edge merely pushed back a little further, it makes no sense to plunge into the transition period at all.
‘Instead the UK should seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period and aim to agree a comprehensive settlement. And if we cannot reach a Brexit deal that is good for Britain and matches the promises that were made in the referendum campaign we should keep all our options open.’
Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, broadly welcomed the progress but added: ‘We are concerned that not enough attention is being given now to the finer details and practical implications of transition.
‘Many businesses will only be able to sufficiently plan and prepare for Brexit once the precise details of the future relationship are known, and any changes to domestic infrastructure like customs have been implemented.’