Brexit news latest: Michel Barnier confirms 'decisive step' towards deal - but May 'concedes' on EU citizens' rights

NIcholas Cecil, Kate Proctor, Sarah Collins in Brussels

Britain and the European Union reached a milestone agreement today on a transition period, which includes EU citizens who arrive in the UK during the 21-month phase getting many of the same rights as those here before Brexit.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the UK had agreed to the citizens’ deal, which appeared to fly in the face of Theresa May’s pledge on the issue.

At a joint press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis gave more details on progress ahead of a key EU summit.

This included:

  • A “backstop” arrangement for the Ireland and Northern Ireland border being put into a draft legal treaty, which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union if no other option could be found.

  • Britain being able to ratify trade deals during the transition period.

  • A multi-billion-pound divorce settlement.

  • A position on Britain’s waters which sparked immediate anger from the fishing industry.

  • A 21-month transition period, rather than two years.

The fine detail of the 120-page agreement had yet to emerge. Most striking was the position on EU citizens’ rights.

(Virginia Mayo/AP)

Last month Mrs May insisted that EU citizens who arrive after Brexit in March 2019 would not get the same rights as those already here. However, Mr Barnier said today: “British citizens and European citizens of the 27 who arrive during the transition period will receive the same rights guaranteed to those who arrived before the day of Brexit.”

Eurosceptic MPs voiced concerns that ministers may have made too many concession. The Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said: “I’ve seen so many diplomatic triumphs in Brussels which need closer scrutiny, we need to look at the small print to make sure we haven’t inadvertently made concessions we should not be making.”

On the Irish border, Mr Barnier said the two sides had agreed how the issue would be dealt with during the remaining negotiations. But he added: “The backstop will apply unless and until another solution is found.” The other two solutions being pursued are a free trade deal or a high-tech customs system that do not require a hard border.

Mr Barnier said that there had been “complete agreement” on future citizens’ rights and the financial settlement as well agreement on a transition period after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Under the preliminary deal, EU fishermen will have access to UK waters at least until the end of December 2020. The Government will have three opportunities to raise objections during the setting of fishing opportunities for 2019 and during the transition in 2020, as it does currently. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said the agreement for fishing during the implementation period fell “far short of an acceptable deal”.

Mr Davis said he hoped negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including a free trade agreement, could start “as soon as is possible”.