Brexit: What does the draft withdrawal agreement reveal?


The draft withdrawal agreement is all about how the UK leaves the European Union. It's not about any permanent future relationship. Teresa May states that “this deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders; ends free movement; protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all”.

Within the 585-page document there are details of the financial settlement that the two sides agreed some months ago: over time, it means the UK will pay at least £39bn to the EU to cover all its financial obligations.

There's also a long section on citizens' rights after Brexit for EU citizens in the UK and Brits elsewhere in Europe. It maintains their existing residency rights, but big questions remain about a host of issues, including the rights of UK citizens to work across borders elsewhere in the EU.

Transition period

And then there's the legal basis for a transition (or implementation) period, beginning after Brexit is due to happen on 29 March 2019. It would be 21 months during which the UK would continue to follow all European Union rules (in order to give governments and businesses more time to prepare for long term change).
That means that during transition, the UK would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The transition period is also designed to allow time for the UK and the EU to reach a trade deal. The draft agreement says both sides will use their "best endeavours" to ensure that a long-term trade deal is in place by the end of 2020. Significantly, if more time is needed, the option of extending the transition appears in the document (although, it is clearly stated that the UK would have to pay for it).

Northern Ireland

If there was no long-term trade agreement and no extension of the transition, that's when the so-called "backstop" would kick in. It's the issue that has dominated negotiations for the last few weeks and months: how to ensure that no hard border (with checks or physical infrastructure) emerges after Brexit between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Both sides agreed back in December 2017 that there should be a guarantee to avoid a hard border under all circumstances. That guarantee came to be known as the backstop, but agreeing a legal text proved very difficult.

The backstop, consisting of “a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom”, will apply from the end of the transition period “unless and until ... a subsequent agreement becomes applicable”.

The single customs territory would cover all goods except fishery products, the agreement says, and will “include the corresponding level playing field commitments and appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair competition between the EU27 and the UK”.


The document lays out the rights for EU nationals living in the UK and vice versa. EU nationals who have lived in the UK continually for five years, and Brits who have lived in the EU countries, will have the right to stay permanently in the UK, along with their family members.

However, there are limitations on this: the host state will not be obliged to "confer entitlement to social assistance" in certain areas, and it will not be obliged to give student grants or loans to people who do not yet have permanent residence.

The deal also means the end of free movement, though there will be visa-free travel to EU countries.