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Here's a thread on the Tusk Juncker letter:
1/ It largely re-confirms and re-emphasises what is in the WA and the Political Declaration. Straight up it says: "we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement"
2/ Most clarifications that might be of comfort to Theresa May relate back to the December summit - meaning they re-emphasise what's already there. This includes the Council's "firm commitment to work speedily on a subsequent
agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020...
...alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered." It also repeats that the backstop "would only apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided."
3/ And it repeats the "best endeavours" promise that is in the WA and the Political Declaration. The EU would "use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom"
4/ There is some comfort on the legal weight of those A50 December conclusions. Remember Theresa May told the HoC on Dec 17 that the conclusions were "legally binding". Today's letter says they have a "legal value" and commit the EU "in the most solemn manner"...
...and that they "therefore constitute part of the context in which an international agreement, such as the Withdrawal Agreement, will be interpreted." Hardly enough for the ERG / DUP though.
5/ In December Theresa May had wanted the Political Declaration to be converted to a legally binding annexe to the WA. That was not a runner, but today's letter confirms a "link" between the two documents, and as such they'll both be published in the EU's Official Journal
6/ There's more buoyant language in the letter about preps for the trade talks to begin as soon as both parliaments ratify the WA, and also that parts of the future trade deal could be "provisionally applied" even before member states ratify it...
...London regards this as a win, but it would appear it was not contentious to the EU side.
7/ On the backstop, the Commission "can confirm that, just like the UK the EU does not wish to see the backstop enter into force. Were it to do so, it would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides." Again this is spelling out what was already there in the WA...
8/ There are further emollient words on the backstop: that it doesn't undermine the GFA, or North-South cooperation, or any of the competences of the NI Executive or the Irish govt. Any regulatory alignment won't go beyond "what is strictly necessary to avoid a hard border etc"
9/ One point of note: London is satisfied that the letter effectively says the UK can hand over "veto" powers to Stormont on any *new* EU legislation that might be rolled into the backstop
This is subtle: London has argued the backstop wd effectively grant the EU a blank cheque to bring in new legislation on the single mkt for goods and the customs union into NI. London saw this as an eternal pipeline of EU rules over which unionists wd have no say...
What the letter clarifies is that the UK already has joint ownership of how the backstop works thru the Joint Committee, and if they want to pass on the "veto" to Stormont that's up to them. But "veto" might be too strong a word, because if the UK/Stormont blocked new rules...
...the EU could take "remedial measures". It's also the case that for any existing EU rules affecting the single market for goods that are *updated* they would automatically be rolled over in NI under the backstop.
10/ London also takes comfort from the following line: "Any arrangements which supersede the Protocol are not required to replicate its provisions in any respect, provided that the underlying objectives continue to be met."
This is because the UK govt worries that a future trade deal might just replicate what the backstop does to avoid a hard border. London wd prefer a "fresh start" when setting off on the free trade negotiations. But the killer qualification is in the second part of the sentence...
"...provided that the underlying objectives continue to be met." In other words, the avoidance of a hard border, as envisaged way back in the April 2017 Negotiating Guidelines and the Joint Report of December 2017. And ultimately avoiding a hard border requires high alignment.
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