If you feel confused about Brexit, don’t worry, you’re not alone. At the heart of it, is a deal that’s not a deal. Many have tried to explain what the deal is. But the truth of the matter is, the negotiations were never completed. It’s a patchwork of agreements, partial agreements and guidelines for future negotiations.
What is Brexit?
In 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU. Which was followed by years of negotiations over our future economic/trading/regulatory relationship with the EU. But, like all public votes, the campaigns bore little resemblance to reality. E.g. The health service isn’t going to get £350,000,000 extra funding per week from savings made (no typo). Nor would business turn out to be happy with the arrangement (£900bn in assets has already been moved abroad). And pretty much all economists agree the economy will be weaker outside the EU single market.
So we now have a deal that’s being rejected by both sides. One side is rejecting the deal because it would leave us worse off. While the other side claim that it wouldn’t give us independence anyway.
What’s included in the deal?
- Britain will remain in the EU single market until Dec 2020. But can be extended while a new trading arrangement is negotiated.
- Britain will pay any money they’ve previously committed to £39bn. (Named ‘the divorce bill).
- EU citizens already in the UK will continue to have the right to live and work here.
- But otherwise free movement of Labour will end.
- Many EU laws will no longer apply (E.g. employment laws, human rights laws etc).
What’s happening at the moment?
The problem is we’re now running out of time. The process of leaving the EU has already been triggered. So if nothing changes, next month we will no longer be part of the EU. So, because of the panic, the politics between the political parties is also complicated, to say the least. And almost resembles ‘The Game of Thrones’ at times. The stakes are so high, the political parties themselves could fall, if they play the game badly enough. Which complicates the matter even further.
One of the main sticking points concerns the border around Northern Ireland. If we leave the EU there obviously has to be a customs border somewhere. However, peace agreement (The Good Friday Agreement), that brought an end to the ‘troubles’ between the Republicans and Unionists in Northern Ireland states there cannot have a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. So breaking this agreement could result in a return to violence. This problem does seems unsolvable. A border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be unacceptable to the Republicans (as well as causing economic chaos). While a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (keeping Northern Ireland in the EU) would be unacceptable to the Unionists. As this would, at least partially, split Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK.
The solution being proposed is called ‘the Northern Ireland backstop’. But would aloe an open border for goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But also provide a customs border for goods travelling through Northern Ireland into the UK from elsewhere. How this would work in practice is anyone’s guess.
But the main concern is whether this backstop creates enough of a border to be seen as splitting the UK in two. If it does, the DUP would reject the deal. This is especially significant, as the government wouldn’t have had a majority to rule without them (the numbers are a little bit different now though).
Another concern is how permanent this ‘backstop is likely to be. The intention is for technology to replace this. But it’s anyone’s guess when this will happen. Over the past month there has been intense negotiations over who has the right to change/remove this backstop and at what point.
What are the options?
Although Theresa May’s deal has been rejected heavily twice already, there is going to be another vote to accept the deal this week. And it does looks like there is growing support this time. Much of it depends on whether the DUP can be persuaded to back the deal. Because many Conservative MP’s have said they won’t back the deal without the DUP’s support.
Although there is very strong opposition to a no-deal Brexit, the MP’s who’d prefer a no-deal are very influential within the Conservative party. Parliament did vote against a no-deal Brexit, but it is still possible to leave without a deal.
At the moment the date for leaving the EU is set at the end of this month. But Parliament did vote for this date to be changed, to give us more time. However, for this to happen every country in the EU has to agree. This doesn’t look likely to happen unless we either offer something new to the deal or call for another referendum on leaving the EU or a general election.
Because the original campaign for Brexit was so different to the reality of this deal. Many people are asking for another referendum. There is very strong support for this around the country. However, it would be very difficult for a Conservative government to allow a second referendum without causing permanent damage to their party. The only way this is likely to happen is if a general election is called. And the Labour Party wins.
A General Election
A general election can be called by first calling a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the government. Any party can call for this vote, but to win this vote would need the support of at least some of the Conservative MP’s, as well as the opposition parties. Very unlikely.
The government does have the option of cancelling Brexitaltogether (cancelling Article 50). And can do so without permission from the EU. But this would be very difficult for the Conservatives to sell to their voters. And could cause permanent damage to their party. Although if we don’t really know what we want from this, maybe cancelling Brexit could be the best option.