After a week’s intensive negotiation, Theresa May has agreed that Britain will do exactly what the EU tells her. The Guardian has a summary of the main points:
- EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU have the right to stay. Rights of their children and those of partners in existing “durable relationships” are also guaranteed.
- UK courts will preside over enforcing rights over EU citizens in Britain but can refer unclear cases to the European court of justice for eight years after withdrawal.
This is good, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The rights of EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the UK, are guaranteed and, quite frankly, the UK government could and should have confirmed this at the outset. I’ve seen elsewhere that Guy Verhofstadt is also saying that that these rights will also need to be guaranteed for future partners future free movement and residence of UK citizens all 27 Member States should also be guaranteed.
It’s becoming increasingly safe to assume that — regardless of the form of words used — freedom of movement between the UK and the rest of the UK will be preserved.
- The agreement promises to ensure there will be no hard border and to uphold the Belfast agreement.
- It makes clear the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will be leaving the customs union.
- It leaves unclear how an open border will be achieved but says in the absence of a later agreement, the UK will ensure “full alignment” with the rules of the customs union and single market that uphold the Good Friday agreement.
- However, the concession secured by the DUP is that no new regulatory barriers will be allowed between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without the permission of Stormont in the interest of upholding the Good Friday agreement.
In summary, Britain is leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union. But will continue to abide by all of the rules laid down by both in order to continue to uphold the Good Friday agreement.
Where this becomes really interesting is when you look at the Brexiter fantasy of a buccaneering Britain striking its own trade deals. If Britain is outside of the Customs Union then yes, these deals can be struck — in theory at least. However, Britain can’t strike any deals that diverge from the Customs Union regulations.
In order to maintain this regulatory alignment, any trade deal is going to have to be validated by the EU. This gives the EU an effective veto on any deal that the UK tries to sign and means that the best that Britain can hope to achieve is a deal that replicates what the EU has already negotiated.
- There is no figure on how much the UK is expected to pay but the document sets out how the bill will be calculated – expected to be about £50bn.
- The UK agrees to continue to pay into the EU budget as normal in 2019 and 2020.
- It also agrees to pay its liabilities such as pension contributions.
So much for “go whistle.”
- The two sides agreed there would be need for cooperation on nuclear regulation and police and security issues.
- There was an agreement to ensure continued availability of products on the market before withdrawal and to minimise disruption for businesses and consumers.
This agreement keeps the show on the road for Theresa May and reduces the risk of a disastrous “no-deal” Brexit. It also means that Britain is heading for the softest of soft Brexits in which — like Norway — the UK continues to observe EU rules indefinitely but without any say in what those rules are.
The Brexit wing of the Tory party seems remarkably sanguine about all of this so far. I’m stocking up on popcorn while I wait for them to realise what they have just signed up to.