And so, an agreement is reached, to move onto talking about an agreement, which might never be agreed. Here’s the lowdown on today’s agreement that the UK has made ‘sufficient progress’ to move onto Phase 2 Trade Talks with the EU:
- NI/RoI will retain soft border
- ECJ will have a say over the rights of EU Citizens in the UK for 8 years
- The UK will continue to pay almost all of its EU liabilities as of 31 Dec 2020 as they come due
- …But only if there’s a deal at the end of the entire negotiation process
- Conservative MPs so far falling over themselves to praise Theresa May, including BoGoveJo as are the EU, with Barnier and Juncker keen to explain the agreement was reached through TM’s “personal” hard work
- Senior Diplomats, such as Christopher Meyer, congratulating PM on getting an agreement done
- Republic of Ireland PM Varadkar is happy: “We have achieved all that we set out to achieve”
- DUP leader Foster not so happy, arguing, ‘We cautioned the prime minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form given the issues which still need to be resolved and the views expressed to us by many of her own party colleagues‘, but happy to have a separate document with Six “clear commitments” from the UK government that NI’s position in the UK would always be safeguarded
- Remainers unhappy that this finally means Article 50 won’t be revoked, but happy that it might end up looking like a softer Brexit due to soft Irish border
- Brexiteers unhappy about the soft border and role for the ECJ, as well as TM ‘rolling over’ to meet EU demands, particularly on the ~50bn divorce bill; but grudgingly admit they can’t argue too much against the document as it does still provide room for “No Deal”
With all sides slightly unhappy, this suggests a decent consensus has been forged. On balance, the Brexiteers are less happy, suggesting this is indeed a victory for the “softer” side of Brexit. The RoI/NI spat over the border is just the entire Brexit question in microcosm, and it hasn’t really been resolved. But Leo is happier than Arlene.
This means Brexiteer protests will increase in the next stage, with the clock loudly ticking. Indeed, the document means something has now changed on the “No Deal” front, with paragraph 49 the key:
The highlighted sentence appears to say that if there is No Deal, then the UK (not just Northern Ireland) will maintain ‘full alignment’ with the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now, the second half of the sentence qualifies that it’s full alignment only where those rules “support” the island of Ireland. This is clearly a sop to both the Republic and to NI, that they don’t need to worry, whatever happens. But it may become a noose around the neck of No Deal because it means the SM and CU will exist as a baseline.
As one of Ireland’s political commentators put it it, it’s currently a Schrodinger’s Brexit:
Of course, all of this can be fudged and re-worked. It may lead to a hybrid Customs Union for the UK (like Turkey’s relationship with the EU).
In reality, the only question is this: Can Theresa sell this to the country?
The spin machine is going into overdrive, with the Conservative Party briefing notes on the deal emphasising how it works for everyone but “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”:
‘This agreement secures the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU, represents a fair settlement of the accounts and maintains the Common Travel Area with Ireland, which has operated since the 1920s, and sets out both sides’ determination to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, while respecting the integrity of the UK Single Market.
…This is a good deal for citizens, for taxpayers and for all parts of the United Kingdom that will allow us to get on to the vital trade negotiations and get quick agreement to an implementation period in the best interests of people and businesses in the UK and across the continent as we leave EU. While we have reached agreement on the phase one issues, paragraph five of the report makes it clear that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.
So we’ve agreed something that works for everyone, but we can always walk away.
A masterclass in spin.
The public will need more than an arcane meta interpretation of a buried paragraph to get upset at today’s document.
Can the Conservative Party now hold the line? In the short term, yes. This staves off the Corbyn threat, and after a trouble-free Budget, there is now a little bit of positive momentum for the government. Even Nigel Farage is left only to say we move onto the ‘next stage of the humiliation’. The Brexiteers will eventually find their killer argument, but it will likely take the next stage of talks to reveal it. All clear on the western front into the end of the year then.