Hazy ‘breakthrough’ saves PM May, leaves Ireland in limbo: Brexit

In the early hours of Friday 8 December, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, received Theresa May, the British Prime Minister in the Berlaymont building. Date: 08/12/2017. Location: Brussels – EC / Berlaymont. © European Union, 2017 / Photo: Etienne Ansotte.

With only a couple of hours sleep in the very early hours of last Friday, the British PM Theresa May boarded a RAF aircraft and landed in Brussels before dawn. Weary as she was, she rushed to Berlaymont building, the EU Commission headquarters. There she met Jean-Claude Juncker the President of the European Commission and together they delivered a Press Conference to a few journalists, exhausted from a sleepless night. During the preceding hours some secure telephone lines between London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels were overloaded.

It was before sunrise the two leaders informed the world the Brexit negotiators had just succeeded in drafting the text for the much sought breakthrough after a many months stalemate. They said there was agreement on the three preconditions, so the negotiations can move forward to the second phase. While the prerequisites regard the past, the two sides can now pass to shaping their future. This is to be done by establishing the outlook of the trade (goods and services) relations, between the EU and the UK for the next decades. Apparently, securing an orderly Brexit must have come as a great relief to the British business and financial world, and gave PM May political breathing room.

96 points in 15 pages

The 15 page agreement covers all the three prerequisites. Firstly, it settles the status of mainland Europeans and the British citizens, who live and work in the wrong side of the English Channel, ‘La Manche’ (articles 6 to 41). The misty arrangement of the Irish question comes second. This is about making sure there will be no bard border enacted, between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland on the 499 km border line, which theoretically divides them (articles 42 to 56).

Last but not least, with the next thirty articles (57 to 86) the two sides have defined the way to estimate the divorce alimony Britain has to pay as well as the sharing out of some items of the common household, like the European Investment Bank. By the same token, the two sides agreed an interim period of two years (2019-2021) during which things will be evolving “as if Britain would have remained in the Union”. Other thorny separation issues, like the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Britain after the Brexit, take up the last 10 articles of the text.

Squaring the cycle in Ireland

After the agreement was published on Friday morning, almost all commentators agreed that the Irish question was far from being resolved. According to Reuters report, “It’s still a fudge,” said one senior EU official in reference to the Irish question. “They put off squaring the circle till later. But how can they do it?” This newspaper feels justified though for having presented this deadlock some days earlier. The European Sting on 27 November published an article entitled, “Britain offers more money for an orderly Brexit but the Irish question resurges”.

Northern Ireland is to leave the EU together with the UK, while Eire will remain an integral part of the EU. On 27 November the Sting wrote: “Liam Fox British international Trade Minister said there can be no arrangement on this Irish issue before the future trade relations between the EU and the UK are agreed. Theoretically, after Brexit there has to be enacted a hard border separating the UK from the EU, cutting Ireland in two. On the other side of the fence the Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan said Dublin would ‘continue to play tough’ over its threat to veto talks about trade after Brexit unless Britain provided guarantees over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Eire would never accept a hard border along the 499 km line”.

Who needs borders?

On top of that, the Protestant Anglophile right wing DUP political party of Northern Ireland vies exactly for the opposite. They want to leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK. But this can only be served by the enactment of a hard border. Whatever Brexit arrangement is finally agreed, it will certainly provide for an exit from EU’s internal market and customs union. In such a case, the EU cannot leave a hole of 499 km in its customs border with the UK. It’s logically impossible then, that the Brexit pact leaves both sides happy. The Eire wanting no borders at all and the DUP wanting a hard one. The senior EU official who spoke to Reuters was quite right speaking about ‘squaring the cycle’.

Liam Fox is also correct. That’s why the two negotiating parties actually left the solution of the Irish problem to be formulated alongside the talks about the future trade relations. This brings us to the more recent Sting title of 4 December, describing what the real problem is: “EU’s unsparing question to UK: now what kind of future relations do you want?” Last Friday Donald Tusk the President of the European Council, commenting after the text of the Agreement was published, concluded his relevant intervention: “Since the Brexit referendum, a year and a half has passed. So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task. And now, to negotiate a transition arrangement and the framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year”.

The British dilemma

True – it will be extremely difficult then for the deeply divided British political system to answer this question in less than a year. It took them eighteen months to come to terms with their divorce obligations. The main culpable parties for that are the unruly Brexiteers, who have indoctrinated a very large part of the Brits, with the opium of nationalism. To their kind, it will be a shocking revelation when they realize that the consequences of leaving the EU constitute the worst option for their country.

In the coming months, the talks about the future trade relations, bit by bit will be revealing the mass illusion the Brits have fallen victims to, believing the lies of unscrupulous populist Brexiteer leaders like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Of course, not all the Brits fell for this trap. The country remains split between Brexiteers and Bremainers.

In any case, the anti-EU Conservative MPs have now swallowed the hard Brussels terms for an orderly Brexit and backed May in accepting them. They were forced to do so by the Damoclean Sword of the highly possible win of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, in the eventuality of another early election had the May government fallen apart.

A new menace

As Tusk said, the two negotiation teams have to accomplish the Herculean Task of setting the terms for the future trade relations between the EU and the UK in less than a year. To this end, Tusk will propose and the European Council of the 27 leaders on 14 December is to approve the passage to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. Luckily enough, though, the Council is expected to also approve an interim period of two years after the Brexit day of 29 March 2019, with no changes at all.

This will bring us to March 2021 and, until then, the Tories’ nightmare may have come true. Jeremy Corbyn may have become Prime Minister. But then his target won’t be the EU but the giant London City banks which have already sensed the danger. The financial leviathans have already declared that Corbyn is more dangerous for them than Brexit.

All in all, the Agreement text as presented before dawn on Friday says in its preface,“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. The British people will most certainly have the opportunity to vote again in a legislative election before the closing date of 29 March 2021. The outcome of that vote can swiftly rewrite the entire Brexit scenario.

 

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