January 15, 2019
A first set of important concessions by the EU
The Tusk-Juncker Letter to Theresa May was quickly dismissed by anyone minded to vote against her deal tonight. But we doubt that many MPs actually read it, let alone reflected on it.
Of course the letter did not, and could not, give a formal end date for the backstop. But as Donald Tusk wrote, the political commitments have legal value and bind the EU in the most solemn manner. Political commitments are part of the context in which international treaties, such as the withdrawal agreement, are legally interpreted.
Jean-Claude Juncker said the European Commission is ready to start negotiations on the future relationship immediately after the signature of the withdrawal agreement. The intention is to conclude the trade talks by 2020. If the trade deal gets deadlocked in the ratification process, it would be applied provisionally. This would remove the threat of a single country keeping the UK trapped in the backstop. He also said the new arrangements to be negotiated would not have to replicate those of the backstop. The EU would be open-minded to allow technical solutions to facilitate trade across the intra-Irish border.
These commitments address a whole number of important concerns raised by the UK during the negotiations. We have no doubt that a second round of talks could produce further commitments from the EU, but only for as long as there is an expectation that this would unlock the opposition to the withdrawal agreement in the UK parliament.