After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 European Union (EU) leaders finally agreed to the UK’s Brexit deal at last Sunday 25 November 2018 Brussels summit.
A satisfied Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, urged both Leave and Remain voters to unite behind the agreement, as it marks the culmination of UK exit negotiations with the EU and also the start of a crucial national debate.
During her briefing, May said: “The British people don’t want us spend any more time arguing about Brexit. They want a good deal done that fulfils the vote and allows us to come together again as a country … In parliament and beyond it, I’ll make the case of this deal with all my heart and I look forward to that campaign.”
On 11 December, May will put her Brexit deal to Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons, with the intention of getting an approval. So as to facilitate the UK’s exit from the European Union planned on the 29 March 2019.
However, the narrow nature of the Leave victory in the 2016 referendum has made Brexit a deeply divisive issue in the country ever since. While some favour the deal, many on both sides of the argument have come out against it.
Deal strong oppositions
For many Leave voters, the agreement shackles the UK to a Customs Union and Single Market for an indefinite amount of time. This part of the deal – known as the backstop – was designed to stop Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK, in assuming regulatory alignment with the Republic of Ireland, and therefore the rest of the EU.
Prime Minister May has instead agreed that the entire UK remain in the Customs Union and Single Market temporarily, until such time as a permanent solution to the thorny issue of the UK’s border with the Republic of Ireland can be resolved.
Critics argue that the timeframe for this is too vague and could effectively leave the UK in a situation where they are part of the Customs Union and Single Market, but have little or no influence over it. Britain will no longer be a EU member state but would still have to pay billions of pounds every year for access to it.
While May has claimed that the deal has ended freedom of movement for EU citizens in the UK, and conversely for UK citizens across the European Union. It has also guaranteed the rights of those EU citizens already living in the UK, and will do so for any of those arriving in the country after the 29 March 2019 deadline.
The Labour opposition in Parliament have come out against the deal because it does not meet the party’s six tests. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says it fails to guarantee the rights of British workers which they currently enjoy as being part of the European Union. But more importantly, he added that it’s a bad deal for the country and Labour will oppose it.
Theresa May is trying to sell yesterday’s summit as a great success but to borrow a phrase “nothing has changed”.
It’s a bad deal for the country and Labour will oppose it in Parliament. pic.twitter.com/xlQrxUUohx
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 26, 2018
With her own Conservative Party deeply divided on the deal, and opposition parties such as Labour and the Scottish National Party all vowing to vote against it, there is still a possibility that it will be passed nonetheless.
Brexit Deal voted down
So what are the alternatives? While the Prime Minister insists she is not looking beyond the 11 December vote, it would be wise to consider the ‘what ifs’ and the risk of a no deal.
Firstly, if the deal is voted down, then Corbyn has said he believes that will be a rejection of the Prime Minister herself and attempt to force a no-confidence vote in Theresa May which he hopes would then trigger a General Election.
Both party leaders do seem to be in agreement that the UK cannot leave the EU without a deal. There are a number of different scenarios which may play out if the Prime Minister’s deal is voted down.
If Theresa May is ousted or indeed resigns as party leader, she will be replaced with another Conservative leader who may believe they can negotiate a more favourable deal with the EU. Although that looks unlikely given that the EU leaders have already insisted that the deal on the table is the only one they will be considered.
Likewise, if Corbyn gets a General Election and becomes Prime Minister, he might seek to strike a new deal with the European Union, although he may run into the same difficulties as a Conservative Party leader.
The other option is, whoever is Prime Minister following the Parliamentary vote, takes the question back to the public and holds a second referendum. May has insisted she will not do that, and Corbyn seems reluctant too, although he has not come out strongly against it. Hence, there may have to be a change of leadership in either party for that to happen.
No Deal scenario
When no deal is talked about, it is often in the context of the UK ‘crashing out’ of the EU without a deal. That gives an indication of the potentially damaging affect a no deal would have.
While it is difficult to see Parliament allowing this to happen if the current deal is rejected, it would remain a possibility in the absence of anything else.
According to HM Treasury, a no-deal Brexit would have significantly damaging effect on many aspects of British life.
Goods which the UK exports to Europe would be immediately slapped with tariffs and subjected to inspections. It is estimated that farm exports could be hardest hit, with potential tariffs of up to 40%.
Checks at ports and airports could also lead to massive delays and disruptions, both for lorry drivers and travellers. A slowing down of the transport of goods and costly tariffs would severely disrupt the supply chain of many foods and there could be shortage of some foods while supermarket prices would rise sharply.
Under a no deal, British citizens living in EU countries would instantly have no legal status and this would apply to EU citizens in the UK.
The doomsday alternative of a no deal is perhaps what Prime Minister May is hoping will sway MPs to get behind her deal, but it is risky strategy and all eyes will be one the House of Commons on 11 December to see if it pays off.