Civil Service head Sir Jeremy Heywood has praised the skill and dedication of Whitehall staff who worked around the clock to deliver today’s draft agreement of “phase one” terms for the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Shortly before 7am, prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced that a deal had finally been struck to allow Brexit negotiations to progress on to talks about the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU.
The 15-page document, finally approved after a night of talks with DUP leader Arlene Foster, outlines future arrangements for protecting the rights and residency of UK nationals living in other EU countries, and non-UK nationals living here. It needs to be formally ratified at next week's European Council summit in Brussels.
It also outlines the UK’s approach to honouring its medium- and long-term financial commitments to the EU, and offers commitments to preserve both Northern Ireland’s open border relationship with the Irish Republic and its status within the UK.
Heywood reacted to the announcement, made in Brussels, by praising the work of former Department for Exiting the European Union permanent secretary Oliver Robbins, who is now responsible for co-ordinating Brexit strategy within the Cabinet Office.
“Many thanks to all the officials under Olly Robbins' superb leadership who have supported the gov't in reaching today's vital milestone. Now on to the next phase,” he wrote on Twitter.
Many thanks to all the officials under Olly Robbins' superb leadership who have supported the Govt in reaching today's vital milestone. Now on to the next phase... https://t.co/5P73DTHiEe
— Sir Jeremy Heywood (@HeadUKCivServ) December 8, 2017
The comments were applauded by FDA general secretary Dave Penman.
Government Legal Department permanent secretary Jonathan Jones praised dozens of his staff who contributed to the draft agreement.
“I would like to pay tribute to the government lawyers who have played an essential role in reaching this point – participating in the working groups in Brussels, and providing the legal advice and analysis which is crucial to such a complex and technical exercise,” he told CSW.
“They have shown great ingenuity, professionalism, resilience, good-humour and team-working.”
Former HM Treasury permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who is now a cross-bench peer, acknowledged that the agreement was a milestone for clarity on the UK’s future arrangement, but stopped short of celebrating the result.
“Future is clear. High level deal to leave EU by 2019. Long transition. Canada style FTA c2024. Much more certainty. Suboptimal endpoint,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Like most agreements between UK and Ireland since 1921, this is all things to all people. Expect the border issue to run and run...and run.”
At a press conference confirming the deal today May said negotiators had been “working extremely hard” this week, and in a direct reference to the deal pulled from the table on Monday at the behest of the Democratic Unionist Party she added: “As you've all seen, it hasn't been easy for either side.”
“When we met on Monday we said a deal was within reach. What we have arrived at today represents a significant improvement,” she said.
“Getting to this point has required give and take on both sides and I believe that the joint report being published is in the best interests of the whole of the UK.
“I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead to the next phase, to talk about trade and security, and to discuss the positive and ambitious future relationship that is in all of our interests.”
European Commission president Juncker praised May's "determination" to get a deal done after Monday’s drama.
“Prime minister May has assured me that (the deal) has the backing of the UK government. I believe we have now made the breakthrough we needed,” he said.
The announcement of the tentative phase-one deal came just hours after MPs on parliament’s Public Accounts Committee criticised Whitehall’s preparations for Brexit for being too reliant on a transitional arrangement being reached to allow “service as usual” at the nation’s borders from March 2019.
While the news from Brussels seemingly makes a “cliff-edge” Brexit in 2019 less likely, the report also flagged a lack of urgency among departments in their border preparations and pointed out the nation’s poor track record of deploying new customs infrastructure and technology.