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PM statement on EU Council: 17 December 2018

Theresa May gave a statement to the House of Commons following European Council meeting held on the 13-14 December 2018.

Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council.

Before turning to Brexit, let me touch on two significant conclusions from the other business of the Council.

First, we expressed our utmost concern over the escalation we have seen at the Kerch Straits and the Sea of Azov and Russia’s continued violations of international law. We agreed to roll-over economic sanctions against Russia and we stand ready to further strengthen our support, in particular, for the affected areas of Ukraine.

And second, we also agreed to work together on tackling the spread of deliberate, large-scale and systematic disinformation, including as part of hybrid warfare. On this I outlined some of the world-leading work that the UK is doing in this field.

And I was clear that after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to work closely with our European partners to uphold the international rules based system and to keep all our people safe. And that is why it is right that our Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU.

Mr Speaker, at this Council I faithfully and firmly reflected the concerns of this House over the Northern Ireland backstop.

I explained the assurances we had already agreed with the EU were insufficient for this House – and that we had to go further in showing that we never want to use this backstop and, if it is used, it must be a temporary arrangement.

Some of the resulting exchanges at this Council were robust. But I make no apology for standing up for the interests of this House and the interests of our whole United Kingdom. In response, the EU 27 published a series of conclusions.

EU Council (Art 50) conclusions, 13 December 2018

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The European Council (Art. 50) on 13 December 2018 adopted conclusions on Brexit.


1. The European Council reconfirms its conclusions of 25 November 2018, in which it endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration. The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation.

2. The European Council reiterates that it wishes to establish as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future. It stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.

3. The European Council underlines that the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market. It is the Union’s firm determination 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.

4. The European Council also underlines that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided. In such a case, the Union 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, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.

5. The European Council calls for work on preparedness at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal to be intensified, taking into account all possible outcomes.


Special meeting of the European Council 25 Nov 2018

At a meeting of the European Council (Art 20) on the 25 November 2018, EU27 Leaders endorsed the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, as presented by the negotiators of the EU and the UK. Leaders also approved the political declaration on future EU-UK relations, which accompanies and is referred to in the withdrawal agreement.


The conclusions from the meeting were as follows:

European Council (Art. 50) conclusions, 25 November 2018

1. The European Council endorses the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community. On this basis, the European Council invites the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, so as to provide for an orderly withdrawal.

2. The European Council approves the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The European Council restates the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future in line with the Political Declaration. The Union’s approach will continue to be defined by the overall positions and principles set out in the previously agreed European Council’s guidelines. The European Council will remain permanently seized of the matter.

3. The European Council thanks Michel Barnier for his tireless efforts as the Union’s chief negotiator and for his contribution to maintaining the unity among EU27 Member States throughout the negotiations on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union

Additional statements were approved for incluson in the minutes of the European
Council (Art. 50) meeting of 25 November 2018 as follows:

Statements for the minutes

Declaration regarding the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration

The Union negotiated and will conclude the Withdrawal Agreement in the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council under Article 50 TEU. The European Council will continue to provide the necessary political direction in respect of the implementation of this Agreement.

On the basis of its successive guidelines of 29 April 2017, 15 December 2017 and 23 March 2018, the European Council will demonstrate particular vigilance as regards safeguarding the rights and interests of citizens, the necessity to maintain ambitious level playing field conditions and to protect fishing enterprises and coastal communities.

This will apply both when assessing the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, if the backstop is to be operationalized, and when considering the future relationship, in particular in the field of environment regarding the alignment to European standards.

As recalled in the Withdrawal Agreement, a fisheries agreement is a matter of priority, and should build on, inter alia, existing reciprocal access and quota shares. Such an agreement should be negotiated well before the end of the transition period.

The European Council and the European Commission welcome the commitments, as reaffirmed in the Political Declaration, to international agreements to tackle climate change, including the Paris Agreement, as well as commitments covering inter alia climate change, building on the level playing field arrangements provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement. In that light, the withdrawal
of the United Kingdom from the Union will not affect shared commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Where the Union position to be taken in the Joint Committee relates to the extension of the transition period and the review of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the Council will act in accordance with the European Council guidelines. Any decision on the extension of the transition period will take into account the fulfilment of obligations by the United Kingdom under the
Agreement, including its Protocols.

As regards the negotiations of agreements governing the future relationship with the United Kingdom, the negotiating directives will be elaborated on the basis of the previously agreed European Council guidelines.

The European Council endorses the statements recorded in the minutes of the General Affairs Council (Art.50) that met on 20 March 2018.

Interpretative declaration of the European Council (Art.50) and of the European Commission on Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement

The sole purpose of Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement is to create best endeavours’ obligations for the Union and the United Kingdom to negotiate agreements governing their future relationship. It imposes no obligations regarding the territorial scope of such agreements. Therefore, there is no obligation or presumption, on the basis of this provision, for such agreements to have the same territorial scope as the one provided for in Article 3 of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The European Council and the European Commission take note of the declaration by the United Kingdom, that the United Kingdom shares this interpretation.

Declaration of the European Council (Art.50) and of the European Commission on the territorial scope of the future agreements

After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, Gibraltar will not be included in the territorial scope of the agreements to be concluded between the Union and the United Kingdom. However, this does not preclude the possibility to have separate agreements between the Union and the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar. Without prejudice to the competences of the Union and in full respect of the territorial integrity of its Member States as guaranteed by Article 4(2) of the Treaty on European Union, those separate agreements will require a prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain.

EU General Affairs Council (Article 50) meeting on 19 November 2018

The Council, in an EU27 format, prepared for the special meeting of the European Council (Art. 50) scheduled for Sunday 25 November 2018.


In preparation for the summit, ministers exchanged views on the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement as presented and published by the negotiators on 14 November 2018. This text has been agreed by both sides, the EU and the UK, at the level of the negotiators.

The EU and the UK negotiators have reached a deal on all the aspects of the UK withdrawal, including securing the rights of citizens. Generally the result is a fair compromise. Both sides have moved towards each other. Break-ups are never easy, but it is always better when they happen in friendly terms. That is also the best way to build a good relationship for the future. We still want the UK as an essential partner in all fields for many years to come.

Gernot BLÜMEL, Federal Minister for the EU, Arts, Culture and Media of Austria

Ministers also commented on the outline for a political declaration on future EU-UK relations that was presented by the negotiators together with the draft withdrawal agreement on 14 November 2018. This outline serves as a basis for the final text of the political declaration that is currently being negotiated with the UK and that will accompany and be referred to in the withdrawal agreement.

EU27 leaders will meet to endorse the Brexit withdrawal agreement on Sunday 25 November 2018.

The summit was called by President Donald Tusk on 15 November 2018, after his meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who presented to him the draft text as agreed with the UK at the level of the negotiators.

On Sunday 25 November 2018, EU27 leaders are expected to endorse the Brexit withdrawal agreement and to approve the political declaration on future EU-UK relations.

“If nothing extraordinary happens, we will hold a European Council meeting, in order to finalise and formalise the Brexit agreement.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council