YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN for forgetting that the EU Referendum was held less than three years ago: Brexit and negotiations with the EU have come to dominate all aspects of British politics. There is rarely a day you can read the news without seeing a story on it. The intensity of Brexit related news will only increase as the date when we are legally set to leave the EU - 29 March - rapidly approaches.
The incredible thing to realise is that all of the negotiations to date have not been about what happens after the UK leaves. Current negotiations have only focused on how the UK will leave. A popular term given to this part of negotiations is that it is the divorce deal. Formally it is called the Withdrawal Agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement covers three main areas:
1) The amount of money the UK must pay to leave. Currently around £39 billion.
2) The rights of UK and EU citizens living abroad.
3) How to ensure there is no hard border be-tween Northern Ireland and Ireland when it becomes a land border between the UK and EU.
Alongside this legally binding document there was also a much shorter non-binding political declaration which set out the intentions of the two parties going forward. The two sides also agreed upon a transition period - on the large assumption that the withdrawal agreement will pass the UK Parliament - from the 29 March 2019 to the 31 December 2020. The transition period also ensures that there will be no sudden changes in the short term, giving businesses time to absorb the cost of any change. The other point agreed in the document which is very significant is the Backstop Agreement.
Image: Number 10
The Backstop Agreement is a position of last resort which ensures that if the UK leaves the EU without a comprehensive deal, then a soft border will continue on the island of Ire-land as is agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. Theresa May agreed that Northern Ire-land would stay aligned to some EU Single Market rules. The UK as a whole would also enter into a temporary Single Custom Territory - effectively remaining in the Customs Union.
The reason why this agreement was so controversial is that during this period the UK would have to abide by EU Custom Union rules but with no say over them - many pointed out that this didn’t appear to be “taking back control.” Secondly, the UK could not unilaterally leave the backstop: it would need the EU’s agreement too.
These are two of the main reasons why May’s Withdrawal Agreement was defeated with the largest Parliamentary defeat in modern history. May agreed to go to the EU27 and try and get “clarifications and assurance” on the backstop. Her second meaningful vote will be brought to Parliament today.
If May’s ‘reformed’ second deal fails to pass Parliament then the UK would still have no deal with less than three weeks to go until it is meant to leave. In this scenario (which is quite possible) we are in uncharted territory. Here are some possible out-comes if the deal is voted down.
1) Leave the EU with No Deal. This option is the most unlikely because it is improbable that there would be a Parliamentary majority.
2) Labour tries to force a general election. While this may happen it is unlikely to succeed. Disagreements on the deal are cross-party. The EU has also ruled out renegotiating a new deal.
3) Article 50 is extended.
If Theresa May’s reformed meaningful vote is voted down then this is the most likely option. This would be voted on on the 14 March. What happens after is unknown. Could it be a case of 3rd time lucky?