Behind the Headlines

“EU withdrawal deal is 95% settled.” Really?

Written on 10/25/2018

What’s the story?

Theresa May updated the House of Commons on progress in the Brexit negotiations on Monday, claiming that the EU withdrawal deal is 95% settled. Read the full story in the Guardian.

How reliable is the story?

Mostly unreliable. For a start, she is referring only to the “divorce” part of the deal, not the far more important Future Framework for relations (governing trade, security, research and so on). And even if the divorce agreement is 95% complete, the final issue to be resolved, the Irish border, will disrupt the entire deal if it is not resolved.

What’s the background?

  • As was widely briefed in the media, Theresa May told the Commons on Monday that, after reaching agreement on Cyprus and Gibraltar, amongst other things, “95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled”. Evidence.
  • But the UK and the EU have still not reached an agreement on the Irish border, which has proved to be the biggest stumbling block in negotiations since the very start of the Article 50 process. Evidence.
  • Both sides want to keep the border open, but the UK intends to leave the Customs union, turning it into a customs border, and also wants to diverge from single market regulations, making it a regulatory border.  Evidence.
  • Nonetheless, both sides agreed on a backstop in December 2017 in a Joint Report which states that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union” which support “the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement”. Evidence.
  • The implication that Northern Ireland might stay inside the customs union and aligned with single market regulations has been strongly opposed by the DUP and the government has been seeking other ways to respect (or wriggle out of) the commitment it made. Evidence.
  • The government has even contemplated keeping the whole UK effectively inside the customs union, but only on a temporary basis until a solution is found. Evidence.
  • The ERG (Tory Brexiter backbenchers) want a time limit on any such arrangement, but the EU-27 insists that it can only end when there is agreement on a replacement (otherwise it’s not a backstop)  Evidence.
  • The government also has yet to determine how it will remove the regulatory barriers that would be created on the Irish border if the UK leaves the single market. Evidence (page 3).
  • Without these being resolved the entire Withdrawal Agreement will collapse, drastically increasing the chance of a catastrophic “no deal” Brexit scenario. Evidence.
  • Even if agreement on the backstop is eventually reached, the UK and the EU will still need to agree on a framework for the future relationship once the UK is no longer a member state, which might well be voted down in Parliament if it is not sufficiently detailed. Evidence.

Photo courtesy UK Parliament

This Behind the Headlines Briefing was first published on the DoorstepEU app: