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Theresa May’s Brexit plan makes headway

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 22, 2018

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain.   -  Reuters

The deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it, says the British PM

The British government’s Brexit process reached another milestone as the European Commission said that the UK and EU had agreed at a negotiator level and in principle the draft political declaration on the future relationship between the two sides.

While observers continue to pick apart the statement — which has been leaked to UK media — to assess whether the government’s ambitions set out by the UK have been enmeshed in it, the development marks a symbolic victory for Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of a summit on Sunday at which EU leaders are set to meet and finalise and formalise details of both the exit process and outline of future relations. The development also follows in the wake of last week’s news that Britain and the EU had agreed the draft terms of the withdrawal.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Theresa May insisted the declaration was the “right deal for the UK” and honoured the public vote. “The British people want this to be settled…that deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it.”

Unlike the withdrawal agreement, which will be binding, the political declaration is more of a statement of future ambitions of what a new relationship — including when it comes to the movement of people and goods and services — will entail.

Controversy over the terms of the withdrawal agreement led to several ministerial resignations and letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister, though an initiative to oust her through formal party processes appears to have been abandoned for now, for want of support from backbench MPs.

The 26-page document has not been officially published though the Guardian newspaper published a leaked draft on its website, that appeared to suggest that Brexit would fail to deliver the frictionless trade with Europe that many had envisaged. The declaration established the parameters of an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership.” However, in one section on checks and controls at the border, the agreement pointed to arrangements that could lead to a “spectrum of different outcomes for administrative processes as well as checks and controls, and note in this context their wish to be as ambitious as possible, while respecting the integrity of their respective markets.”

Avoiding hard border

“The political declaration confirms that Britain is heading for a hard Brexit — if it can solve the Irish border problem and avoid the backstop….The language is warm but the message is brutal,” said Tom Kibasi, Director of the IPPR thinktank. “It merely promises years of negotiations to an unknown destination,” said Anna Soubry, a Conservative MP and prominent campaigner for a second referendum.

However, the declaration appeared to live up to one point repeatedly stressed by UK authorities: Their intention to end free movement and bring in “visa-free travel” for short-term visits only. In a concession to pro-Brexit critics unhappy with the Northern Ireland backstop (effectively an insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland) the declaration also notes a “determination” to replace the backstop solution with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border on a permanent basis.

“The entire deal has been driven by the fact May’s only real red line isn’t frictionless trade, leaving customs union, Ireland/Northern Ireland — and certainly not business) economy - it's ending free movement,” tweeted Jonathan Portes, a senior fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

Published on November 22, 2018

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