9 horrors in May’s Brexit deal

by Luke Lythgoe | 15.11.2018

Theresa May’s Brexit deal – all 585 pages of which was finally published last night – has been greeted with outrage and ministerial resignations from both hardline Brexiters and moderates in her party. Here are nine reasons why.

Transition to 2099?

If there’s no new trade deal by the end of the transition (which looks likely), then one option is to extend. But for how long? Theresa May talked about a “short extension” in the Commons today. But the deal says “up to [31 December 20XX]” – so, theoretically, until the end of the century if necessary.

Extra money to extend transition

We’ve already agreed to pay at least £39 billion to settle our debts with the EU. Now we have confirmation that the UK will pay an “appropriate amount” if we need to extend the transition. The EU may argue the appropriate amount is quite high.

Following EU rules without a say

This applies to the 21-month transition period, and any extension. But we would also have to follow many EU rules if we instead activate the controversial “backstop” if a deal isn’t in place by the end of the transition. This puts the UK in a customs union with the EU and following 100 pages of “level playing field” rules on things like workers’ rights, environmental protections, state aid and tax – so UK companies don’t unfairly compete with EU ones. All without a seat at the top table.

We can’t end backstop unilaterally

The UK and EU must “decide jointly” to end this rule-taking backstop arrangement. That will depend on being able to keep the Irish border open without it. But that will probably rely on either some magical technology that hasn’t been invented yet or the UK agreeing to a very close future relationship with the EU. The backstop means endless purgatory.



European court gets final say

If there are any disputes around the backstop arrangement, then a 5-person panel of arbitrators will attempt to settle them. The UK and EU will put forward 25 individuals who can be called to sit on such panels when needed. However, this panel will not decide on any matters that involve the “interpretation of a concept of (EU) law”. That will be done by the European Court of Justice – whose jurisdiction May promised to end.

Backstop still splits Northern Ireland from Great Britain

The backstop will prevent customs checks for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But it also includes a long list of single market rules Northern Ireland alone will need to follow to keep the border open. That means more regulatory checks. Indeed, the European Commission’s analysis says “checks at ports and airports will need to continue, but will be increased in scale”. This separation from the rest of the UK is a “blood-red line” for the DUP.

Backstop puts UK on back foot in trade talks

Theresa May says both sides “never want to have to use” the backstop. There’s even a goodwill clause in the deal to that effect. But 21 months is an unrealistic time frame for such an ambitious agreement. And because the backstop is so heavily in the EU’s favour, that gives them a huge amount of leverage as the UK scrabbles for a quick deal.

Gibraltar out on a limb

Spain hasn’t yet pushed its case strongly over the Rock. But the current arrangement will “cease to apply at the end of the transition period”, except in the case of workers’ rights. That means Gibraltar’s air transport, fishing, environment, policing and customs will all be back up in the air.

Fishing spat kicked down the road

The sensitive dispute over EU fishing boats’ access to UK waters, and the free trade of UK fish into the EU, has been put off. All the deal promises is to aim for a separate UK-EU fisheries agreement before July 2020. It’s likely the fishermen will be hung out to dry.

Uncertainty also continues around lots of other things: services, immigration, security and our membership of the nuclear community Euratom. May’s deal locks the UK into a miserable immediate future whilst barely beginning to resolve the damaging uncertainty Brexit is causing. No wonder it is likely to go down in flames.

This article has been updated to clarify the arbitration arrangements for disputes during the backstop.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “9 horrors in May’s Brexit deal”

  • Is this a Machiavellian plan to force Parliament to reject it, with the impossible option of no deal or the far more intelligent option of STAYING IN THE EU ??
    The Media are fed what the government want us to know – or think we know.

    Whatever, at the end of the day, this may just pass and if so, then for the likes of myself, an ex-pat, it will be business as usual. For the rest of the UK, there will be virtually no change, but prices in the shops should start to come down, as the exchange rate stabilises. So, not all bad news.

  • And, p.s., I really don’t give a monkeys about sovereignty Can’t eat it, can’t wear it and it doesn’t pay the rent. Sovereignty and nationalism both belong in the dark ages.

  • After the excitement of this week, what comes next?
    On the basis that Brexit has consumed so much time now amongst MP’s, they must all be fully aware of the possibilities for them if the Brexit deal is rejected by them in parliament.
    They know that the EU itself would and could provide any amount of extra time to allow a People’s Vote to take place, and they must know that the EU would not stand in the UK’s way to withdraw the Article 50 notice.
    Therefore, I don’t believe that any MP should be trapped into panicking just because the options appear to have dried up. They haven’t.
    Of course, the tensions will continue but it is inconceivable that the UK would survive more than 24 hours of a Brexit no-deal scenario. Simple common sense tells you that traffic and trade will just stop.
    Hey presto, the reality of Brexit will have been experienced!
    Immediately an emergency agreement between the EU and UK will be established to allow both sides to continue as previously, probably on the Terms of the Brexit Agreement proposed now.
    Well done Brexiters! Would anyone bet on the Tory Party continuing to exist at all after this? No, and good riddance too!

  • And the biggest horror of all – not listed here – is that it’s a declaration of small-minded mediocrity. The deal as presented is utterly devoid of vision or ambition. Its headline achievement, trumpeted from the rooftops, is the removal of a freedom. Its message to the people: give us your children, your visionaries, your explorers: we’ll soon narrow their horizons!

  • The proposed agreement satisfies Kerensky May’s obsession with immigration, nothing else matters. In her xenophobic, little Englander world all will be well in St Mary Mead once the door is shut on all those pesky foreigners!