Britain’s May won the first round on the Brexit agreement with the EU

British PM Theresa May makes statement on Brexit at Downing Street, on completion of her Cabinet meeting. Taken on November 14, 2018. Some right reserved.

Last Tuesday, the British Prime Minister Theresa May, said she has struck a Brexit agreement on the future relationship with the European Union. In reality though this is a withdrawal agreement, not a full trade or otherwise deal for the future relations between the two sides. Yesterday she won the backing of her deeply divided cabinet on that. It’s the second time she says so. The last incident was in December 2017. On that occasion, the 27 leaders of the EU Council undersigned her proposal for the UK to remain in the club’s Customs Union for a two years interim period, after the divorce date of 29 March 2019. One month ago, the 27 leaders of the EU Council extended this time limit. They told her, Britain can stay in the Union for as long as the two sides need to conclude an agreement for their future relations.

Unfortunately, after December 2017, things turned sour, because the Brexiteers in her Tory governing party derailed that arrangement. They feared the interim period may be extended ad infinitum, practically pegging the UK in the EU and voiding the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016. They demanded then, and still insist upon, a fixed date to be set for the time the UK will remain in EU’s Custom Union.

Solving the dilemma?

To be reminded, the whole affair is about the need to avoid a hard border being installed in Ireland, separating the Irish Republic, the Eire from Northern Ireland. In any case, yesterday afternoon May won the approval of her deeply divided cabinet about the latest agreement with Brussels. Reportedly, the important Brexiteer ministers also backed the deal. Apparently, the main point of the present agreement foresees no hard borders between Eire, a member of EU, and Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the UK. Let’s explain all that.

After Brexit, Eire will continue being a member of the EU, while NI has to follow the UK in exiting the club. In such an eventuality, the two parts of the island have to be separated by hard customs checks and controls, in order to protect the EU Internal Market.

However, the enactment of a hard border on Ireland must be avoided at all costs. At least this is what the two sides, London and Brussels, have agreed from the very first day they started negotiating a Brexit deal. The obvious reason is to avoid rebound violence on the tormented island.

Anglophiles v Nationalists

The end of the decades old clashes between the Anglophile Protestants and the nationalists has to be credited to the European Union. The conflict which had devastated the island ended ten years ago with the Good Friday Agreement, by installing completely free communications between NI and Eire.

Both parts of Ireland are, to this date, members of the EU, so there is no need for customs controls and checks. Thus, the fragile peace in Ireland is based on the completely unimpeded movement of people, goods and services on the island. Brexit or not, this reality has to be protected. This is the renowned, by now, Irish Backstop, which haunts the Brexit negotiations from day one.

The Irish backstop

Obviously, the only solution to avoid the building of hard customs booths on the invisible today Irish border is that the entire UK remains in EU’s Customs Union and Internal Market. This arrangement may hold on for at least some time, and in any case, until the future trade deal with the EU is finalized. May says this relationship is now agreed.

This is the key point in May’s proposal which won yesterday afternoon the backing of her cabinet, including a number of prominent Brexiteer ministers. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean there won’t be more resignations from her cabinet during the next few hours or days.

Winning the first round

Surely, this approval was the easier part. May’s agreement with the EU has to be endorsed by the Parliament. For that, the Prime Minister needs around 320 votes in a 650 member house. Already, a number of hard Brexiteers in her Tory party, like Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, have said they will vote down the proposal.

To be noted, that May’s party doesn’t command the absolute majority in the legislative and her government survives with the votes of ten Northern Ireland deputies of the right wing Democratic Unionist Party. They represent the local Anglophile Protestants. It’s not yet clear if they are going to back the agreement.

In conclusion, last afternoon’s development doesn’t preclude the Parliamentary vote. Not to forget, the Tories have been deeply divided for many decades, about whatever is related to the European Union. Margaret Thatcher, in the apex of her power, was ousted from 10 Downing Street and the party’s Presidency for reasons related to Brussels.


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