There’s a Brexit deal on the table, but it looks increasingly unlikely that it will get through the House of Commons
thejournal.ie|AIWA!The Bollocks To Brexit bus arrives in Dover as it tours around the UK. 14 December 2018.Source: PA Wire/PA Images
WE’RE JUST ABOUT three months away from 29 March, which is the legal deadline by which the UK must leave the European Union.
For the past two years, the UK has been hammering out the terms and conditions for leaving the economic, customs, trade and immigration agreement they have with the 27 other member states through being part of the European Union.
Although the EU and UK negotiating teams, the 27 EU leaders, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May have agreed to support the Brexit deal, there has been a growing backlash against the deal due to concerns that the backstop could lead to the UK being permanently locked into an indefinite customs deal, or Northern Ireland being carved off from Great Britain.
Unless there’s a dramatic change (of which we haven’t been short), the UK will be out of the European Union by 30 March 2019, deal or no deal.
Both sides have agreed that a no-deal scenario is the worst outcome for everyone, but since June this year, it’s become an increasingly likely outcome. Here’s why that is, and why the deal on the table looks so unfavourable.
It’s a worst-of-both-worlds Brexit
The proposal for a deal that they’ve achieved has been described as “Frankenstein’s monster”: a creation made partly through a bizarre experiment to see how far it could go, and captivates the attention of onlookers, agape at how things unfold as time goes on.
The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, which only sets out the terms upon which the UK leaves the European Union, is seen as being too closely aligned to the EU by Brexiteers.
Nigel Farage speaks at a Leave Means Leave Save Brexit rally.Source: PA Wire/PA Images
The deal cuts off the free movement of people, which means that the UK wouldn’t be allowed access to the Single Market; disputes about EU law would go before the European Court of Justice; and the issue of fisheries, which has been called the UK’s strongest hand, is the only issue for which there has been no agreement.
Last week, Theresa May postponed the crucial House of Commons vote MPs have on her Brexit deal when it looked as though as many as 100 Tories would vote against her.
Two days later, 117 MPs voted to say they had no confidence in her as Tory leader.
Then there are the MPs who oppose Brexit altogether. They are starting to think that if they reject the deal in the House of Commons vote, their chances of getting a second referendum are higher.
Since the postponed vote, the UK media have been reporting that there are secret preparations for a second referendum, despite Theresa May’s public declarations that holding a second vote would do “irreparable damage” to the integrity British politics.
EU-UK tensions have soared
A breakdown in goodwill and trust between the UK and EU has also contributed to the Brexit deal stalemate we’re in now. There’s a lack of trust from both sides, whether justified or not, as is evidenced by the row over the backstop.
But that row has been going on for some time now.
After David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary in July this year and Dominic Raab took his place, it seemed as though negotiations were put on firmer ground.
There were reports of chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier getting on better with Raab, press conferences together seemed warmer than with Davies.
Former Brexit Minister Dominic Raab and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in September.Source: Monasse Thierry/ANDBZ/ABACA
But in the run up to the Salzburg summit, things took a turn. That’s something both sides do agree on.
Speaking to the Telegraph’s Brexit Podcast this month, Dominic Raab, said that he had been given political assurances that the backstop would be time limited, but that EU and UK officials began leading negotiations in the lead up to the Salzburg summit.When we got to September in the lead up to the Salzburg summit, [negotiations] frayed a little bit, because we were being led much more by officials. And there’s a huge role for officials… but I think as we got close to the Salzburg summit, and certainly after as we addressed and approached the October Council, I think it was very clear to me that we needed a political closure to this deal. We didn’t have that and I think it probably accounts for the failure at Salzburg.
The summit at Salzburg was organised to discuss the Irish backstop (which hadn’t been agreed then), but ended up with EU leaders criticising Theresa May’s Chequers plan in a move that reportedly “blindsided” the Prime Minister, and culminated in her firing back with a statement from 10 Downing Street, saying that she expected to be treated with respect.
“The EU have played a good game,” Raab said on the podcast. “We haven’t been tough enough or clear enough. We could have won this backstop argument, even as late as July.”
At the time of the summit, EU Council President Donald Tusk said something similar: “The UK stance presented just before and during the Salzburg meeting was surprisingly tough, and in fact uncompromising.”
What’s at the heart of Brexit?
On 23 June 2016, what did the 51% of people who voted for Brexit actually vote for?
29.10.18A Brexit timeline: How much time is actually left to strike a deal?
Was it increased sovereignty by limiting the rules and regulations of the EU, to limit immigration, or to “take back control” of its waters? Was it all three?
The most accurate answer is we’re not sure, but we can take a good guess, and that’s what MPs have been doing. The problem here arises when we hear MPs say that this Brexit deal doesn’t represent what people voted for – although that may be true, it’s not clear what the UK electorate did vote for on 23 June.