It seems that the Brexit negotiations have reached some agreement with regard to the transition (EU) or implementation (UK) period.
Full details are in the linked document, 23-euco-art50-guidelines, prepared for the European Council (it’s only seven pages long).
The numbered items are titled “Guidelines – 23 March 2018” but unlike earlier guidelines leave more room for interpretation by the negotiators – and also by us.
“The European Council welcomes the agreement reached by the negotiators on parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement …. The European Council recalls that other issues still require agreement …. The European Council … reiterates that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
No ambiguity here – full agreement on each point will be required, and conformity to earlier guidelines:
“The European Council recalls and reconfirms its guidelines of 29 April and 15 December 2017, which continue to apply in full and whose principles will have to be respected by the future relationship with the UK.” (See Divorce Guidelines and Propaganda, Deceits and Lies.)
One ill-defined term is repeated four times (and has appeared many times in earlier documents):
“In this context, the European Council reiterates in particular that any agreement with the United Kingdom will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations, and ensure a level playing field.” (our emphasis each time)
“…the European Council confirms its readiness to initiate work towards a balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging free trade agreement (FTA) insofar as there are sufficient guarantees for a level playing field.”
“In terms of socio-economic cooperation, the following could be envisaged: … while ensuring a strong level playing field in highly competitive sectors”.
“Given the UK’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence with the EU27, the future relationship will only deliver in a mutually satisfactory way if it includes robust guarantees which ensure a level playing field.”
Although the term ‘level playing field’ is not defined it becomes easy to understand from the sentence that follows the fourth of these quotations:
“The aim should be to prevent unfair competitive advantage that the UK could enjoy through undercutting of levels of protection with respect to, inter alia, competition and state aid, tax, social, environment and regulatory measures and practices.” They fear competition and will prevent it if possible.
And how will this level playing field be maintained?
“A future partnership should respect the autonomy of the Union’s decision-making, taking into account that the UK will be a third country…”
“The role of the Court of Justice of the European Union will also be fully respected.”
“Designing the overall governance of the future relationship will require to take into account: … the requirements of the autonomy of the EU legal order, including the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union…”
What appears to have changed in these guidelines is that we can at least discuss future trade arrangements with other countries and that the wholly unnecessary and artificial sequencing (Irish border, etc.) has been relaxed somewhat.
The national leaders comprising the European Council naturally want to extract the maximum benefit they can for their countries from Britain before and after its departure but they also want to minimise the losses to their own economies. Therefore they are now instructing Barnier and his team to allow them to see the shape of a possible deal rather than simply obstruct it. Probably that’s because they now believe Brexit will happen despite resistance from powerful groups in the UK. They also show how frightened and cowardly they are about the prospect of a competitive neighbour emerging Ireland should realise that it is likely to lose its own advantage in attracting companies, which is now the key to its prospective success rather than the agricultural subsidies that it initially benefitted from.
However, what are the prospects for a full and final agreement, given that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and that earlier documents have made it clear that (a) the EU insists that the ECJ will retain overriding authority over national courts, including an independent UK’s, and (b) the UK insists that its own courts will have full and untrammelled authority in the UK?