Good afternoon everyone!
We have just concluded our third meeting of the Joint Committee on the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Our main message was on the much-needed acceleration of the implementation work to prepare for the 1st January 2020 and on the need to ensure a full, timely and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Much work remains to be done before the transition period ends in fewer than a hundred days.
Let me therefore turn to the main elements of today's meeting.
On citizens' rights, the EU and the Member States continue to take steps to ensure the rights under the Withdrawal Agreement of around 4.5 million EU citizens and UK nationals.
We are confident that all Member States are on track to fully deploy their residence schemes and process all UK nationals in time.
To that affect, some Member States have introduced - due to the pandemic - a more flexible approach. In particular, prolongation of the grace period beyond June 2021 in Member States with a constitutive system or prolongation of validity of residence documents issued under the EU free movement directive.
Turning to the situation in the United Kingdom, while acknowledging efforts to register all EU citizens, I have raised our serious concern over the UK settlement scheme granting new resident status.
In practice, it distinguishes between different categories of EU citizens with the same residence status - as such, it undermines legal certainty, also affecting their rights. We cannot have two classes of beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Moving to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the window of opportunity to put in place the operational measures needed for it to function is rapidly closing.
I have therefore reiterated the urgent need for the UK to accelerate its work on all aspects of the Protocol and in particular with regard to sanitary and phytosanitary controls; customs-related IT systems; and the registration of Northern Irish traders for Value Added Tax purposes.
We welcome that the UK is now engaging on some of the Joint Committee decisions that need to be adopted before the end of the year to fully implement the Protocol. But many difficult issues remain and the UK's positions are far apart from what the EU can accept.
I have repeated the EU's request to withdraw the contentious parts of the draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September. We maintain that the Bill, if adopted in its current form, would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Protocol, as an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and of international law.
The Withdrawal Agreement is to be implemented, not to be renegotiated - let alone unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Protocol is specifically designed to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the achievements of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. It recognises Northern Ireland's unique circumstances, allowing growth and prosperity to continue.
We are willing to work hard with the UK on these issues over the coming days and weeks. I have requested that the next meeting of the respective Specialised Committee takes place in early October at the latest.
We also discussed the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus and Gibraltar, the ongoing implementation work of the financial settlement at technical level as well as the remaining Joint Committee decisions, which should be adopted before the end of the transition period. It is important to accelerate the preparatory work on these decisions.
All in all, today's Joint Committee meeting has shown the urgent need to move into higher gear and therefore, the next Joint Committee by mid-October should take stock of the results achieved by the Specialised Committees.
The EU is fully committed to achieving a full, timely and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement within the remaining time available - constructively, at full speed and in good faith.