The draft Brexit deal in brief

Michael Savage Policy editor
Fisheries are a potential flashpoint that has been delayed. The UK wants access to European markets, while the EU wants access to UK waters. Photograph: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images


During the transition period, the EU’s free movement rules still apply, so EU citizens can come to live and work in the UK until December 2020. Once the transition finishes, free movement ends and the UK can set its own immigration policy. Any British people who take up residence elsewhere in the EU before that date will be allowed to stay there, as will Europeans who settle in Britain.

The Irish border

The deal contains a backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland and which would create a “single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom”. It will only kick in should Britain’s future relationship with the EU fail to keep the border open, but critics warn it could keep the UK locked in a customs union with Brussels indefinitely.

The law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will have the final say on matters of EU law, angering Brexiters who wanted all sovereignty to return to British courts. During the transition period, the UK will have to follow all EU rules and ECJ rulings. Should the backstop be triggered, disputes are resolved by an arbitration panel made up of both sides – but interpretations of EU law are referred to the ECJ.

Crime and policing

The UK remains part of crucial European policing and security arrangements until December 2020, including EU databases of missing people, arrests, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle number plates. The deal explicitly says the UK will be locked out of EU databases and systems at the end of 2020 and the two sides need to come up with an agreement to keep current cooperation.


Ensures the continued supply of medicines without a hitch until December 2020. UK citizens’ rights to healthcare in the EU and vice versa will carry on until that date. What happens after that has not been decided.


The deal ensures that deliveries can be made without being delayed at the border until the end of the transition. If the UK and EU fail to agree a long-term trade deal by then, the so-called customs “backstop” kicks in, which means that the UK would continue to be able to trade with the EU with no tariffs. However, we would not be able to strike deals to lower tariffs with other countries outside the EU – at least not until an EU trade deal is negotiated and the backstop ceases to apply.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier holds a copy of the draft agreement with the UK as he addresses a media conference in Brussels on Wednesday. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

Adopting EU standards

To the concern of Brexiters, the deal states that should the “backstop” be adopted, the UK must observe “level playing field” commitments that align Britain and the EU on issues such as state aid, employment and environment standards.


The UK’s environmental laws will have to be at least on a par with the EU’s during transition. The UK will have an independent environment watchdog that can take the government to British courts.

Research and higher education

Funding for collaborative research EU projects has been guaranteed until 2020. The government has indicated it wants to pay into the EU’s budget to carry on participating after that date, but the draft deal offers no further clarity on this.

Air travel

The deal says that both sides intend to strike a “comprehensive air transport agreement”, allowing airlines to continue operating between Britain and the EU in a safe and commercially fair way.


A flashpoint delayed. While the UK industry wants access to the European market, the EU wants to make sure its fishing fleet has access to UK waters. The agreement only states that “the Union and the United Kingdom shall use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify” an agreement in future.