Background Briefing: June European Council Conclusions


On Friday 29 June, the EU27 published its Council conclusions on Brexit. The two-page document reveals exasperation at the UK Government’s lack of clarity about its objectives and about the question of Northern Ireland. The key points are as follows:

  • Northern Ireland: The Council expresses concern that “no substantial progress” has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland, and warns that negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far (particularly those made in December 2017 and March 2018) are respected in full.
  • Future relationship: The document says that achieving a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship will require "further clarity as well as realistic and workable proposals from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship." It also says that if the UK to drop its red lines, the EU would be prepared to reconsider its offer to the UK.
  • ‘No deal’ preparations: The Council renews its call upon Member States, Union institutions and all stakeholders to step up their preparations for no deal.
  • Gibraltar: Finally, the document says there are still important questions over whether the agreement would apply to Gibraltar.

Top Lines

  • With the Government making an utter mess of the negotiations, this Summit has made no real progress, meaning we are no nearer to a solution to the key problems of Brexit than we were three months ago.
  • Ministers are trapped by Theresa May’s red lines. She says she wants no hard border in Ireland and no new barriers to trade, and also that she wants to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market. These two sets of demands are incompatible and continue to drive the Brexit negotiations towards the rocks.
  • The Prime Minister’s utter failure to face down the hardliners in her own Cabinet means that a destructive no-deal Brexit is now a very real possibility. That would be disastrous for our country, for jobs and for the million-plus UK citizens living in the EU, as well as EU citizens living in the UK.
  • The promises that were made about Brexit – whether about trade, about the Northern Irish border, about a so-called ‘Brexit dividend’ or simply the claim that Brexit would be easy – are now lying in tatters.
  • It is clear that the Government cannot deliver the Brexit that was promised and Parliament is deeply divided: that is why there is now growing demand across the UK for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.


In Detail

Northern Ireland

What Ministers promised:

  • "There's been a free travel area between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for, I think, getting on for 100 years…There's no reason at all why that should cease to be the case."[1] Boris Johnson, 29 February 2016
  • “I believe that the land border with Ireland can remain as free-flowing after a Brexit vote as it is today."[2] Theresa Villiers, 17 April 2016
  • "I am confident that using the most up-to-date technology, we can get a non-visible border operational along the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."[3] David Davis, 5 September 2017


What the European Council conclusions say:

  • “The European Council expresses its concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland. It recalls the commitments undertaken by the UK in this respect in December 2017 and March 2018, and insists on the need for intensified efforts so that the Withdrawal Agreement, including its provisions on transition, can be concluded as soon as possible in order to come into effect on the date of withdrawal. It recalls that negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full.”

The impact of a hard border:

  • A hard border would affect more than 7,300 companies that export to the Irish Republic, or roughly 15 per cent of the businesses in the region. It would also have an impact on some 177,000 lorries and some 250,000 vans that cross the border for trade every month.[4]
  • “Any kind of physical border, in any shape, is bad for the peace process. It psychologically feeds badly into the nationalist communities. People have said that this could have the same impact on the nationalist community as the seismic shock of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on unionists, and I agree with that." Bertie Ahern, Irish Taoiseach (1997-2008), 11 Feb 2017
  • “Just think about it, if we were out of the European Union, with tariffs on exporting goods into the EU, there would have to be something to recognise that between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.”[5] Theresa May, then Home Secretary, 21 June 2016
  • “A UK decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union would make border checks unavoidable.”[6] Michel Barnier, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator, 9 February 2018


Future relationship

What Ministers promised:

  • “It will be a different relationship, but I think it can have the same benefits in terms of that free access to trade.”[7] Theresa May, Prime Minister, 29 March 2017 
  • “What we have come up with—I hope to persuade her that this is a very worthwhile aim—is the idea of a comprehensive free trade agreement and a comprehensive customs agreement that will deliver the exact same benefits as we have.”[8] David Davis, 24 January 2017
  • “What I said was that our objective would be to ensure that we would have continued access to the markets in Europe – and vice-versa – without tariffs and without bureaucratic impediments and that is how we will approach those negotiations.”[9] Greg Clark, Business Secretary, 30 October 2016


What the draft European Council conclusions say: 

  • "This requires further clarity as well as realistic and workable proposals from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship... The European Council recalls that if the UK positions were to evolve, the Union will be prepared to reconsider its offer..."

The implications of the Government’s red lines:

  • In her 2016 Conservative Party Conference speech the Prime Minister recklessly ruled out membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.
  • But she doesn’t have a mandate for this hard and destructive Brexit – she put this proposition to the public at the 2017 General Election and it was wholly rejected.
  • The EU’s position has been clear from the beginning. They would like us to remain in the Single Market and/or the Customs Union to retain frictionless trade and avoid a hard border in Ireland.
  • The EU Council’s draft guidelines, published last week, are the direct consequence of the Government’s unnecessary and reckless decision to take membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union off the table.
  • The ‘cherry-picking’ approach being pursued by the Government is, and always was, a fantasy.
  • The EU’s position implies that a Canada-style free trade agreement is the only option left thanks to the Government’s red lines.


‘No deal’ preparations

What Brexiteers used to claim: 

  • "You can be sure there will be a deal. The one I want which is the free trade agreement, the customs agreement and so on." David Davis, 25 June 2017
  • "The day after we vote to leave we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want." Michael Gove, 18 April 2016[10]
  • “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the EU should be one of the easiest in human history." Liam Fox, BBC Today Programme, 20 July 2017[11]


What the draft European Council conclusions say:

  • “The European Council renews its call upon Member States, Union institutions and all stakeholders to step up their work on preparedness at all levels and for all outcomes. 
  • This is the EU warning governments and businesses in Europe to prepare for the possibility of a no deal Brexit.

The impact of no deal:

  • The overwhelming view of witnesses was that ‘no deal’ would be deeply damaging for the UK. It would not just be economically disruptive, but would bring UKEU cooperation on issues such as counter-terrorism, nuclear safeguards, data exchange and aviation to a sudden halt. It would necessitate the imposition of controls on the Irish land border, and would also leave open the critical question of citizens’ rights.” House of Lords report on “Brexit: deal or no deal”, 7 December 2017[12]
  • “The [Government’s own] study found under the worst scenario – if Britain left without a deal and was forced to fall back on WTO rules – GDP could decline by a cumulative 7.7 per cent over 15 years” Government’s own assessment of Brexit reported in the Evening Standard, 8 March 2018[13]
  • “A “no deal” Brexit could cost UK households £1,000 a year, with the impact disproportionately felt by poorer households.”[14] Oliver Wyman report, quoted in the FT on 18 June 2018



What the Brexiteers used to say:

  • “[the transition agreement] does cover Gibraltar.”[15] David Davis, 20 March 2018
  • "I reassured him [Picardo] of both our steadfast commitment to Gibraltar, and our intention to fully involve Gibraltar in discussions on our future relationship with the EU."[16] Boris Johnson, 17 July 2016


What the European Council conclusions say: 

  • “The European Council takes note, however, that other important aspects still need to be agreed, including the territorial application of the Withdrawal Agreement, notably as regards Gibraltar.”


The Gibraltarian Government position on a people’s vote:

  • “It’s complex but I think there is democratic legitimacy for a second referendum as new arrangements will have been agreed.”[17] Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, 29 January 2018


The impact of no deal: 

  • Gibraltar's economy is dependent to a significant degree on Spanish and other EU nationals, with around 12,000 (or half of Gibraltar's total workforce) commuting across the border every day. A commonly expressed fear in the territory is that the Spanish Government could arbitrarily close the border – thus posing the risk of even greater economic instability and uncertainty.[18]
  • According to the UK Government, Gibraltar has benefited from EU funding, receiving almost €60m since 2000, helping to create over 3500 jobs and enhancing the territory’s economy.[19] The absence of a deal would threaten this.









[7] Theresa May BBC interview with Andrew Neill 29 March 2017

[8] David Davis, House of Commons, 24 January 2017

[9] Greg Clark, Andrew Marr Show, 30 October 2016










[19] ibid