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Analysis

7 questions MPs can ask to expose holes in May’s deal

by Hugo Dixon | 26.11.2018

Theresa May will stand in front of MPs today to field questions on her Brexit deal – the third time she’s done so in less than two weeks. Her statement is unlikely to be anything new. But now we have the final text of the deal, MPs can be more forensic in their questioning, exposing the holes in May’s offer.

MPs should therefore ask whether the prime minister can confirm…

…that we only have an option to “request” an extension to the transition period, and that saying there is an “option to extend the implementation period” is misleading?

This is important because we will have to negotiate any extension to the transition period with the EU beyond 2020. We’ll be desperate to do a deal and our negotiating hand will be very weak by that point. The EU will be able to set the price. The government’s Explainer of May’s deal contradicts itself on this (see paragraph’s 122 and 158).

…we could end up paying more per year to the EU than we do now if we extend the transition?

The FT has reported that the the EU will be looking for €10-15 billion for each extra year in the transition. Given that we would no longer be getting any money back from the EU for farmers, poor regions of the UK and science if the transition is extended, the €15 billion would be higher than our current net payment to the EU. Added to that is the fact we would no longer benefit from the rebate that Margaret Thatcher negotiated for us.

…the EU is going to insist on a fisheries deal that involves “existing reciprocal access and quota shares” in order to get an extension?

This is a very sensitive political issue, particularly for Scottish Conservative MPs with fishing communities in their constituencies.

…what is a “fair and appropriate financial contribution” to continue to participate in EU programmes in science, education, defence and much more?

This is all in the government’s political declaration on our future relationship with the EU – but any figures remain unclear. A start would be for the government to provide the cost of each of these EU programmes in the last year available and the share of the total EU budget contributed by the UK.

…that new and beefed-up regulatory bodies and agencies will all be ready by the end of the transition period in December 2020, and what that will cost?

If the UK leaves the EU as envisaged, it will need to establish or increase the size of a large number of regulatory bodies and agencies – to make sure everything from nuclear and aviation safety to environmental protections and banking standards works after Brexit. The scale and readiness of all this remains unclear.

…that there will be nothing to stop goods from anywhere in the EU making their way to Great Britain via Ireland and Northern Ireland – but there could be checks going the other way?

The “backstop” deal on Northern Ireland says nothing will prevent the UK giving unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the UK. But there will be regulatory checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland if the “backstop” is triggered. This means firms in Great Britain will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to those in the EU.

…that legislation bringing the deal into UK law will only be introduced if Parliament passes the meaningful vote motion?

The government’s Explainer of the deal says this, but the more May promises it the better. The so-called “meaningful vote” – pencilled in for December 12 – is the first point at which MPs can reject May’s deal, ultimately paving the way for a People’s Vote.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe