Brexit deal: What we know about the EU-UK agreement

The EU and UK have reached an initial agreement on Ireland, citizenship rights and a divorce bill. DW breaks down the details of the agreement.

Britain and the EU have made "sufficient progress" on a Brexit divorce, paving the way for the two sides to move onto the next phase of negotiations on the future relationship in the areas of trade, defense and security, pending final approval at next week's EU summit.

The EU had been calling for clarity on three key issues — the Irish border, a financial settlement and the rights of EU-UK citizens  — before any future trade talks. The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt told DW that while the tacit agreement was "very positive," he remained "very curious" as to how the UK planned to implement its goals, matters to be discussed in the second phase of talks.

The European Commission and UK reached an agreement in principle on these three issues, with the "caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" as part of a final Brexit deal.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?

Two phases

EU leaders agreed to negotiating guidelines during a summit in April 2017 that divided the divorce talks into two phases. Phase I, in which both sides aimed to settle the basic terms of Britain's departure, started in July and ended with an agreement on "sufficient progress" in December. Officials are now holding Phase II negotiations on the post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?

The "Brexit Bill"

London agreed to a formula for calculating what it owes in its "divorce bill" to the EU in early December after months of haggling by British officials. The current EU budget expires in 2022 and EU officials have said the divorce bill will cover financial obligations Britain had committed to before triggering article 50. The final bill will reportedly total around £50 billion (€67 billion).

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?

Citizens' rights

Both sides agreed in early December that the 3 million EU citizens currently in Britain and the 1.1 million British citizens in the EU keep their residency rights after Brexit. British courts will have immediate jurisdiction over EU citizens living in Britain. But the EU's highest court, the ECJ, can hear cases until 2027 if British judges refer unclear cases to them.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?

The Irish border

Britain and the EU also agreed in December that no border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would return post-Brexit. How feasible the commitment will be is unclear, as Britain's commitment to leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union makes it difficult to avoid customs checks at the Irish border.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?

Transition period

Theresa May envisages a two-year transition period after March 2019. Both sides still have to hash out the details of the transition period in Phase II, including the exact end-date, whether new EU laws passed during the period will apply to Britain, and whether Britain can negotiate its own free trade deals. British officials hope to agree on the terms of the transition by March 2018.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?


May has repeatedly said Britain will leave the European Single Market and the EU Customs Union. Leaving both could disrupt British-EU trade, but allow Britain to negotiate its own free trade deals and restrict EU migration — key demands by pro-Brexit politicians. London has said it wants to negotiate a new EU-UK trade deal during Phase II to minimize trade disruption before March 2019.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?


Britain has also vowed to restrict EU migration into Britain after Brexit. However, some British lawmakers are wary that a sharp drop in immigration could lead to shortfalls in key sectors, including health, social care and construction. The EU has warned that Single Market access is out of the question if London decides to restrict the ability of its citizens to live and work in Britain.

Brexit negotiations: What are the key issues?


Recent terror attacks across Europe including a string in Britain underline both sides' support for continued security cooperation after March 2019. But access to EU institutions such as Europol and programs such as the European Arrest Warrant require compliance with EU laws. Whether Britain will still be compliant after it leaves is unclear.

Citizenship rights

-     The rights of EU citizens working and living in the UK, and UK citizens in the European Union would be respected.

-     The reciprocal provision, which would impact some 4 million EU-UK citizens, would apply to those legally resident in either the EU or UK by the official scheduled withdrawal date, March 29, 2019.

-     The reciprocal protections would apply to spouses and children of EU-UK residents, even after the Brexit date.

Northern Ireland's changing border

The Irish Free State

Britain's response to Irish demands for independence was devolution within the UK, or home rule. Pro-British Unionists didn't want to be governed by Dublin, so two parliaments were set up, for Northern and Southern Ireland. However, nationalists still pushed for full independence and in 1922 Southern Ireland was superseded by the Irish Free State as enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Treaty (pictured).

Northern Ireland's changing border

The Six Counties

Northern Ireland had been carved in a way that allowed Protestant loyalists to stay in control, but also ensure the region was large enough to be viable. It included four majority-Protestant counties in the ancient province of Ulster, as well as the two Catholic nationalist counties. Three of Ulster's counties — Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan — were placed on the Southern Ireland side of the border.

Northern Ireland's changing border

No laughing matter?

Involving members of the British, Irish and devolved Belfast governments, a 1924-25 boundary commission looked at the whether the border should stay where it was. It broadly remained in the same place, often cutting through communities across its 310 miles. The Spike Milligan novel "Puckoon," made into a film (above), charted the problems brought to a fictional Irish village divided by the border.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Roadside customs checks

The new border's checkpoints initially regulated the movement of certain goods, with movement of people being free. However, the Anglo-Irish Trade War of the 1930s saw tariffs imposed on foods and later coal and steel. The dispute ended in 1936, but Ireland still pursued protectionist policies into the 1950s. Customs stayed in place until the advent of the EU Single Market in 1993.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Bloody legacy

With an escalation in fighting in Northern Ireland in 1969, British troops were sent to the province, fueling nationalist resentment. The border was heavily guarded to stop weapons smuggling from the Republic. The South Armagh stretch was particularly notorious. The Irish Republican Army's South Armagh Brigade is thought to have killed about 165 British troops and police from 1970 to 1997.

Northern Ireland's changing border

South of the Border

The border was also policed by the Republic of Ireland's security forces, who intensified their anti-terror efforts in the late 1970s. They worked with the British, but the working relationship was not an easy one. To communicate with Irish counterparts, British troops at one time had to speak to the Northern Irish police, who would contact the Irish police, who would then call the Irish army.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Watchtowers and rifle sights

Despite the end of customs in 1993, the threat of terror still loomed and the border remained militarized, with watchtowers and soldiers. After the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — which brought back devolved government to Northern Ireland and sought to address issues such as policing and paramilitarism — the IRA eventually halted its campaign of violence as border security disappeared.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Barely noticeable

The border today is as invisible as it has ever been, with free movement of traffic between the Republic and the North. The picture shows two policemen, one British, one Irish, watching as a foreign leg of the 2014 Giro d'Italia crosses the border in Armagh.

Northern Ireland's changing border

Anything to declare?

There are fears that Brexit would make a hard border necessary, given that Britain appears set to leave the EU Customs Union and Single Market. The border issue is one of three conditions laid out by the EU for trade talks to begin. Brussels says there must be no hard border. Campaigners, like those pictured above, have sought to remind the public of what such a frontier would look like.

Read more: The Irish border: What you need to know


-     There would be "no hard border" between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, including "physical infrastructure or related checks and controls."

-     All sides agreed on guaranteeing full implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement [the peace deal that ended three decades of conflict and created the present-day political institutions].

-    People of Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens would continue to enjoy their rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland.

-     The technical details related to the functioning of the EU Single Market and the customs union in Ireland and Northern Ireland will be fleshed out during trade talks during the next phase of Brexit negotiations. 

-     The UK's intention is to address the EU Single Market and customs union issues around the Irish border question through an overall EU-UK relationship. That is, through an EU-UK trade deal.

-     In the absence of an EU-UK trade deal, the UK will "maintain full alignment with those rules of the Single Market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement."

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DW News | 08.12.2017

Jean-Claude Juncker: 'Sufficient progress has been made'

Divorce bill

-     The UK would meet its previous EU budget commitments under "a methodology for the financial settlement" agreed to by both sides.

-     While no concrete figure was given, previous estimates have put UK financial obligations at 45-55 billion euros ($53-65 billion).

-     The divorce bill would not be paid in one big chunk, but in installments as if Britain were (still) an EU member.

-     The UK would contribute to the EU budgets for 2019 and 2020 as if it were still in the bloc, even if it withdraws before those dates. The UK would also receive its surplus rebate in 2020.

-     Following Brexit, the UK would still be responsible for its share of financing EU liabilities incurred before the end of 2020.

-     It would also be responsible for the EU's contingent liabilities at the date of withdrawal.