Brexit Moves To End Of Second Act
Theresa May is expecting to endorse the withdrawal deal between the UK and the EU at a meeting of European heads of state on Sunday. However, this is not straightforward for a number of reasons.
Domestically, the “deal” has been widely criticised. Remainers feel that it gives away all the advantages of EU membership for no return. Brexiters feel it ties the UK too closely to the EU, potentially in perpetuity should it be impossible to find a workable solution to avoiding a customs border on the island of Ireland. They argue that it turns the UK into a “vassal state” forced to abide by laws that it has no hand in shaping (odd that this should come as a surprise to them so late in the day…). The DUP whose 10 MPs provide the government with a working majority claim that the deal is unacceptable since it could result in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK having diverging trade rules.
Defenders of the deal claim that it is the best deal that could be forged between the two parties and that it will prevent a (now nearly universally accepted) harmful and chaotic no deal exit.
Whilst Mrs May appears to have escaped a challenge against her leadership of the Conservative party for now, critics suggest that it may come if/when the deal is rejected by parliament. Five members of her cabinet are said to be pushing for last minute adjustments to the deal that they want May to get the EU to agree to, but this will be a bridge too far.
However, criticism of the deal is not confined to the UK. The Spanish are threatening to refuse to endorse the deal (which means it would fail) unless the future trading status with Gibraltar is clarified and a number of nations are keen to see the future fishing rights between the UK and EU to be more clearly presented.
For her part, Mrs Merkel has stated that she is not willing to enter any negotiations with the UK during Sunday’s endorsement meeting (take it or leave it) and has strongly suggested that the EU ought not to change the text either.
My guess is that the EU will endorse the agreement as it is such that the political drama in the UK can come to a head.
May has been giving conflicting messages about the consequences of the UK’s parliament rejecting her deal. On the one hand she suggests that come what may, the UK will leave the EU on29/3/19 with or without a deal. On the other hand, she has suggested that a rejection of the deal could lead to “no Brexit” happening at all. One of her ministers stated that it would not be possible for the UK to leave the EU without a deal since parliament would never agree to it. In any event, the curtain will fall on act two of Brexit on Sunday. We must wait and see if act three reveals the beast to be a tragedy, a comedy or a farce, or just possibly, all three.