The UK-EU27 deal takes the UK a big step closer to leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019. The deal on EU citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and Northern Ireland’s border will unlock talks first on a transitional period then on trade talks early next year.

But while some have hailed the deal as pushing the UK towards a ‘soft’ Brexit, the outlook is, rather, for tough talks on a free trade deal that will, if it happens, be enormously damaging to UK trade. And these talks will find it immensely difficult to square the circle on keeping Northern Ireland’s borders, both with Ireland and with the rest of the UK, open and frictionless, as the deal promises.

Overall, the UK largely conceded to the EU27’s demands all round: EU citizens’ rights are largely protected, the divorce bill meets pretty much all the EU’s demands, and the commitments on the Northern Ireland/Ireland border are all that the Irish government could have hoped for and more.

But EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, made clear the tough path ahead on trade when he repeated his view that a Canada-style free trade deal is the most likely outcome, given the UK’s insistence, repeated in the 15 page deal, that the UK as a whole will leave the EU’s single market and customs union.

Such a Canada-style deal would certainly mean harder borders between the EU27 and the UK. With a separate trade policy, different regulations and no free movement, there will be non-tariff barriers aplenty, even if there will mostly be tariff free trade. Just-in-time production, rapid customs clearance, and the UK as a major services exporter to the EU will all come to an end.

Nicola Sturgeon is surely right to contrast the language of the deal, and its assurances that Northern Ireland will face no border either with Ireland or with the rest of the UK, with the heavy unionist language on the hard border Scotland would face with England if it went independent. But the independence movement has not just been given a free pass on open borders in the future.

If there are hard borders between the UK and EU27, with a Canada-style deal, then an independent Scotland in the EU would also face a hard border with England. And while Northern Ireland might get some ‘specific solutions’ for its border with Ireland, England can’t opt-out of its own trade deal with the EU. The deal also allows, though, that Northern Ireland’s assembly and executive could in fact agree that they want ‘distinct arrangements’ on regulation – something the Scottish government and parliament will surely pore over with great interest.

Yet it is very hard to see how a Canada-style deal can be squared with the backstop commitment, if no special solution is found, to ensure ‘full alignment’ with those EU single market and customs union rules which ‘support North-South’ cooperation and the Good Friday Agreement. So in many ways the can has been kicked down the road and once trade talks start in earnest, meeting the promises now made in writing on Northern Ireland will be tough if not impossible at least for the Tory government to do.

It does seem that a 2 year transition, completely under EU rules and laws - but with the UK no longer having a vote or voice - may now get agreed quite fast. But once the EU27 set out the criteria for a Canada-style deal, more businesses will trigger contingency plans to move to the EU27. Theresa May has pushed Brexit forward, but she may have just jumped from frying pan to fire.

** Kirsty Hughes is Director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations