Brexit: The next steps

EPA

British Prime Minister Theresa May, delivers a statement during a news conference inside number 10 Downing Street in London, November 15, 2018.

How much of a compromise is the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK?


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UK Prime Theresa May may be having a hard time holding her government together as, as the time of print, four ministers have submitted their resignations immediately after she endorsed a Brexit deal that has long been a long time in coming.

The casualties for May included her second Brexit secretary to quit the job, Dominic Raab, after she and her counterparts in the EU came to an agreement on a 585-page hard fought deal that included a demand from the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the texts needed to be made public as soon as the deal was announced.

European Council President Donald Tusk has cast little doubt on the prospect of the deal being ratified, but has also said that “Brexit is a lose-lose situation, and that our negotiations were only about damage control”.

May has done her best to present the agreement as the best possible deal that the UK could get, saying it fully delivers on the major issues that London wanted resolved. In an attempt to buoy her perilous political position, May took pains to reiterate that her ministers had signed off the agreement before handing in their resignations the next day.

With mounting speculation that May could be forced out, few observers have been able to predict what might happen next as she has insisted that she has no plans to leave 10 Downing Street and is “determined” to see the Withdrawal Agreement go through.

The future of the agreement will likely hinge on the six main issues that both sides had set as red lines during the months of negotiations

The movement of both UK and EU citizens will still enjoy the same rights, but London has said it will implement a more restrictive migration policy that is based on the skills of workers, rather than on their origin.

Europeans will be treated as third-country citizens by the end of the two-year transition period, after which they will be forced to complete immigration formalities. Those that had settled in the UK before Brexit will be able to obtain permanent resident status and retain their existing rights without having to deal with excessive red tape.

The UK’s contribution to the EU budget, which was agreed upon months ago already agreed months ago, will continue, as it, due to the fact that the UK is obliged to continue to finance the EU budget until the end of 2020, as well as to pay the €45 billion ‘Brexit bill”.

The most contentious issue, the status of the Irish border between Northern Ireland and Ireland saw the two takes steps towards creating a “functional backstop” that would see the UK give up strict border controls on the island of Ireland, a development that was subjected to severe criticism by hard Brexit supporters who see the UK being stuck in the EU’s Customs Union for the years to come, now that a hard border will not exist between the EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will remain a part of the United Kingdom.

Any trade deals the UK will strike with third countries will be able to be put in force, according to what was agreed.  London will be able to implement any free trade deal that it makes with all other countries. If the transition period is extended, Britain’s newer free trade deals will have to wait. What’s paramount, however, once the transition period ends, any new deals that could affect the backstop agreement over the Irish border would have to get the green light from Brussels.

Retaining London’s status as the world’s financial capital was always central to the UK’s demands during the negotiations. Brexit supporters thought that their exit from the EU would cast off the cost “of an over-regulated EU financial system, but the Withdrawal Agreement makes clear that the British financial institutions will lose their financial passport to the EU. This allowed them to carry out activities, without restrictions, in the EU.

The UK will now have a status that is more akin to that of Canada, Japan, and the US, which allows for limited access to the EU financial market, but this can be modified if both the Britsh and European authorities agree.

This part of the deal is not being seen as a capitulation by London as many see this as a best-case scenario for the UK, even if some have hoped to obtain a more favourable status for UK’s financial center. The frequently fought over issue about fishing rights has yet to be solved, mainly due to the UK’s demands that it wants to regain full control over Britain’s territorial fishing waters, which the UK had previously shared with fishermen from other parts of Europe, and to put an end to the Brussels’ fishing quotas.

Despite calls for “independence from EU laws and regulations, the UK will not cut its ties to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) during the transition period. The UK will still be required to apply EU law, and therefore, remain under the ECJ’s jurisdiction,

All eyes will now be focusing on the November 25 Brexit Summit, with several key actors , including Tusk, expressing concerns about the growing political volatility in London.

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