The Withdrawal Agreement Accepted by the EU: What’s Next?

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After almost two and a half years of negotiations, a Brexit deal has finally been agreed with the European Union (EU). The final deal was announced by Prime Minister Theresa May two weeks ago and was met with widespread criticism among both her cabinet as well as in House of Commons.

Her Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, resigned as a result of the withdrawal agreement citing the ‘fatal flaws’ within it. In late November, Mrs May announced that the EU had accepted the agreement and would now campaign for the bill to be passed in parliament in a vote set for December 11th. The two documents agreed by the Prime Minister and the EU consist of a 585-page agreement on the rights of citizens living both in and out of Europe, a 21-month transition period to allow for trade talks and the “divorce bill”, estimated to be around £39 billion. The second document is a 26-page statement surrounding Britain’s future with the EU but is not legally binding, unlike the withdrawal agreement.

The issue of Brexit that negotiators have found most tough to find a solution on is that of the Irish border. The EU fears that a border with guards and checks will threaten the peace between Northern Ireland and the Republican of Ireland that remains in the EU. The EU has therefore proposed keeping Northern Ireland in line with its customs union as a last resort backstop option, which has been rejected by Brexiteers among the British negotiators. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and its leader, Arlene Foster, who are meant to support the governing Conservative Party via a confidence and supply vote agreement, have hit out at the Prime Minister and accused her of ‘giving up on negotiations’. Mrs Foster was adamant that the deal proposed for Brexit in the withdrawal agreement was ‘not right’ and vowed to fight against the deal to gain a better outcome for the people of Northern Ireland. In recent days, in an attempt to placate Brexiteer opposition to the proposed fallback backstop arrangements for maintaining an open border on the island of Ireland, Theresa May has suggested willingness to make the backstop subject to specific approval by parliament before it could be implemented.

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The Prime Minister has also faced questions as to whether the withdrawal deal will threaten future trade with the United States. This comes after President Trump when asked about the withdrawal agreement stated that it sounded more beneficial to the EU and this could mean that the UK would not be able to trade with the US after it leaves the EU. Further criticism has arrived Mrs May’s way from her former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. Sir Michael, normally regarded as a staunch supporter of the Prime Minister, spoke of how the deal would reduce the UK’s influence in trade reduced for what he calls ‘vague assurances’.

The Prime Minister, responding to her critics, says that the deal delivers on the promises the government made to the British people after it voted to leave the EU in 2016. Mrs May also challenged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to a live televised debate, which surprised many due to her failure to do so in the build-up to last year’s general election. The debate idea was criticised by Conservative MP and former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who says that a debate between two people who initially campaigned for Remain is pointless as it offered only ‘false promises’. In any case, the debate between Mrs May and Mr Corbyn in the end failed to be agreed upon.

The Prime Minister has remained adamant that her deal would be passed in Parliament. She has also not ruled out a second vote on the deal. The Prime Minister again urged parliament to vote in favour of her deal when opening Commons debate on the withdrawal agreement reached with the EU on Tuesday, arguing that the search for a ‘perfect Brexit’ should not prevent a ‘good Brexit’. Meanwhile, the prospect of a no deal Brexit or no Brexit has been put on the table by EU Council President Donald Tusk if parliament votes down the current documentation of Britain’s efforts to leave the EU.

Only on Tuesday 11th December, which remains currently the scheduled day for the House of Commons vote on the withdrawal agreement reached by Theresa May’s government with the EU, will we know if Theresa May has successfully argued her case for the deal to MPs.

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International Editor 2019/20

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