UK and EU negotiators have agreed a draft ‘political declaration’ outlining the objectives talks on post-Brexit trade and security cooperation, it has been announced.
European Council president Donald Tusk said the political declaration, which accompanies the 585-page withdrawal agreement or ‘divorce’ deal, has been "agreed at negotiators' level and agreed in principle at political level".
The announcement paves the way for a summit on Sunday for EU leaders to sign off the deal.
Cabinet ministers were being briefed by Theresa May on the contents of the document by conference call as news of the agreement broke. Mr Tusk said he has sent the draft political declaration to Britain's 27 European partners.
“The Commission President has informed me that it has been agreed at negotiators' level and agreed in principle at political level, subject to the endorsement of the Leaders,” he added in a tweet.
Unlike the withdrawal agreement, the political declaration is not legally binding, but is linked to the UK’s divorce terms. An earlier draft of the declaration was just seven pages long, but the final version is understood to include 27 pages.
The UK Government has said that the withdrawal agreement, including the £39bn financial settlement, will not be enacted without the political declaration.
A future trade deal between the UK and EU will be "comprehensive" involving "customs and regulatory cooperation" and "alignment of rules" on trade in goods, but could still involve "checks and controls" at the border, the political declaration confirms.
One of the contentious issues for future trade talks addressed in the document is fishing, with the political declaration committing both sides to “cooperate bilaterally and internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation, and foster a clean, healthy and productive marine environment, noting that the UK will be an independent coastal state”.
Opposition parties and Conservative backbenchers, led by the 13 Scottish Tory MPs, have raised concerns that access to British fishing waters for European fishing fleets could continue, in exchange for wider trade access to the EU market.
The document states that “within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares”.
It adds that both sides will “use their best endeavours” to reach agreement on fisheries “by 1 July 2020”, when the post-Brexit transition phase ends.
Brexiteers and Scottish Tories have warned that any extension to the transition to allow for more negotiating time could keep fishermen under EU quotas and rules.
Nicola Sturgeon has seized on the wording, tweeting within minutes: “Looks to me like fishing will be a bargaining chip in wider trade negotiation (‘within the context of the overall economic partnership’).
“[The UK Government] was trying to get commitment to annual agreements on access - looks like they failed. Another Tory sell out of fishing on the cards.”
The First Minister added: “If wider trade negotiation not agreed by July 2020, nor will fishing agreement (‘best endeavours’ not a guarantee) - and possibility of 2 year transition kicks in.
“So not guaranteed to be out of CFP by end 2020. Feels to me like David Mundell has some explaining to do.”
Mrs May is to meet Austria's chancellor to build support for her Brexit plan ahead of the Sunday summit.
Mr Kurz told the Austria Press Agency in remarks published Thursday that his trip to London is designed to help May build support for the deal, which faces opposition in the British Parliament.
He also says he hopes to get a "realistic picture" of May's chances of getting majority support for the bill.