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EU, UK agree on Brexit text but gaps remain before summit

This article is more than 12 months old

But there are still unresolved issues such as future of Gibraltar

BRUSSELS/LONDON Britain and the European Union agreed on a draft text setting out a close post-Brexit relationship, officials said, though wrangles over fish and the future of Gibraltar must still be settled before the leaders meet on Sunday.

Yesterday's news sent the pound nearly 1 per cent higher on relief among investors that 18 months of tense negotiation were bearing fruit, keeping Britain close to its biggest market and ensuring nothing much will change for at least two years.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters in London: "The British people want this to be settled, they want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future ...

"That deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it."

EU officials said there was a solid consensus that remaining niggles should not hold up a final deal for Sunday, as the other 27 governments go through the new paperwork.

The main question mark is over whether Spain, seeing Brexit as an opportunity to swing the EU's weight behind its 300-year campaign to reclaim Gibraltar from Britain, can be persuaded to remain patient.

After a draft treaty last week set the terms for Britain's departure in March, Mrs May had met EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, hoping to finalise an ambitious declaration on future ties that can help her secure backing at home for the whole Brexit package in the teeth of furious parliamentary opposition, even within her own party.

She is due to meet Mr Juncker again on the eve of the summittomorrow, and a spokesman for Mr Juncker said that by then there should be nothing much left to sort out.

With Spain, France and other EU member states lobbying for various national vested interests in that political declaration - a 26-page wish list on future trade and security ties separate from the 585-page withdrawal agreement - there was concern in Brussels that haggling could get out of hand and derail Sunday's tightly choreographed formal summit of the 27 leaders with Mrs May.

Summit chair Donald Tusk said: "It has been agreed at negotiators' level and agreed in principle at political level."

The main text of the political declaration, seen by Reuters, said the EU and Britain "agree to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership".

"This partnership will be comprehensive, encompassing a free trade area as well as wider sectoral cooperation... will be underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field".

Despite the hopes of financial companies in London, Britain secured no improvements to its proposed future trading relations in financial services.

The transition period, currently due to end after 21 months in December 2020, can be extended for up to two years.

Mrs May has said it must end before a British election due in mid-2021. - REUTERS

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