It's your support that makes the difference.
We drive change in Europe.
Ahead of the upcoming 'meaningful vote' in Parliament, Open Europe publishes a new report examining the detail of UK-EU Brexit agreement and focusing on the implications of the transition and the Irish backstop.
2 December 2018
Open Europe has today published a new briefing, “The Proposed UK-EU Brexit Deal: An explainer.”
The UK and EU have reached agreement on the terms of Brexit. This Deal will be put to the House of Commons for a vote on the 11th December. According to some counts over 90 Conservative MPs have so far publicly opposed the Deal. Some of these may be bought off, but the momentum in Parliament is not yet with the Government. Even Labour Brexiteers plan to vote against it. However, there is some evidence that the deal is growing in popularity with the public.
If the vote is lost the UK will presumably attempt to tweak the Deal. There are two broad options – either seek to soften it or make it harder. Softening the Deal could include setting out explicit options to create a permanent Customs Union (Labour’s policy) or otherwise to retain membership of the Single Market and a Customs Union (as suggested by Nick Boles MP). Open Europe has proposed improving the backstop, including by creating a ‘Stormont’ Lock.
Calls simply to ditch the backstop will surely be rejected by the EU at this stage. There is clearly no path to a negotiated agreement without some form of a backstop. Both a Canada (or indeed “Super Canada”) deal and a “Norway plus” relationship would require a backstop.
Ultimately, the UK faces two broad Brexit choices:
Neither a General Election nor a Referendum would fundamentally alter these choices.
We explore the implications of the Deal in more detail below, focusing on the backstop which is the most problematic element. It is difficult in constitutional terms for Northern Ireland, and would not allow the UK a fully independent trade policy until a future relationship is agreed. It also creates a baseline for a future UK relationship with the EU.
On the other hand, some degree of special arrangements are arguably inevitable for Northern Ireland. Brexit will lead to divergence between the UK and EU. Northern Ireland could either remain in alignment with Ireland, so moving away from the rest of the UK (and upsetting Unionists), or move away from Ireland and stay with Great Britain (upsetting Nationalists). Some form of hybrid arrangements for Northern Ireland were always likely to be an appropriate answer, but the backstop tilts those arrangements towards the EU.
Equally, although Open Europe backs leaving the Customs Union and does not think it is politically sustainable in the medium term for the UK to not have control over trade policy as a non-EU member, we have also argued that we will need more time to prepare to do so. Open Europe did not believe the new customs systems required would be ready by the scheduled end of the standstill transition and therefore suggested that a period in a customs union beyond that was inevitable. The backstop provides for that, but without a clear workable exit mechanism.
The backstop, in certain respects takes us back to a position before the 1986 Single European Act which created the Single Market, extending the then EEC’s political powers with greater Qualified Majority Voting. We would be returning to something more akin to a customs union with a common market in goods, and the tap of future regulations turned off. Over time regulations would diverge in many areas, but goods trade could continue without tariffs or quotas. The backstop lacks a clear exit mechanism but, as the experience of exiting the EU via the deficient Article 50 is showing, even exit mechanisms can be problematic.
The biggest challenge remains how the future relationship can be reconciled with ending the backstop. This question has not been resolved and is punted into the future negotiations.
If you cannot see the PDF reader below, please click here to read the full report.