95% of Brexit settled? We’re still nowhere near

by Luke Lythgoe | 22.10.2018

“95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled,” Theresa May told MPs today in a bid to buy more time to push her Brexit agenda through as talk of a leadership challenge swirls.

Trying to measure a negotiation process in this way is rather futile. Especially when both sides have said “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, and when the bulk of the remaining 5% is focused on how to keep the Irish border open – the most intractable problem of the entire withdrawal process.

The four-step plan May laid out in the Commons today is unlikely to satisfy either the EU or the Brextremists in her party.

May is still only proposing a “short extension” which would have to be over “well before the end of this Parliament”. And she stressed the UK should “not be kept in either (an extension or a backstop) indefinitely”. So her proposal remains an insurance policy with a time limit, which isn’t really an insurance policy at all considering how long it could take to find a viable solution to the border problem.

Brexiters won’t be happy either. Her statement confirmed an extension of the transition period was now very much a possibility. No matter May’s reassurances, the fear will loom large of being trapped in a customs union with the EU once it’s clear a border solution cannot be found.

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But even the issues May is claiming to have resolved still hold unanswered questions.

  • The “divorce bill”: the government calculates this to be around £39 billion, though the National Audit Office has warned it could be higher. And if the transition period is extended, it’s likely we’ll have to pay more for the privilege.
  • The rights of EU citizens in the UK: they have been given reassurances, but should never have been used as bargaining chips in the first place. Meanwhile UK citizens in the EU look set to lose some of their rights, for example free movement around the 27 EU countries. And there is still no certainty for EEA citizens from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, or Swiss citizens.
  • Gibraltar: all the UK and Spain have agreed is that Gibraltar won’t be a problem during the transition. But that is a stand-still period in which our relations with the EU will largely stay the same. The big question mark hangs over Gibraltar and its border with Spain after the transition ends.
  • Securing an “implementation” period: May is portraying this as a win. But at the start of this process she insisted everything would be sorted by March 2019, and denied the need for a transition period at all. The 21-month transition she has agreed, even with an extension of a few months, won’t be long enough.

Finally, May’s “95%” figure only relates to our withdrawal agreement with the EU. This is just the first stage of the Brexit process. Thrashing out an ambitious future relationship will largely happen after the scheduled Brexit deadline of March 29, 2019 – when our negotiating position will be even weaker than it is now. A trade deal of the scope May wants usually takes the best part of a decade to wade through the detail and sign off.

The prime minister is trying to push many problems beyond the Brexit deadline. If the public don’t like that idea, we need a People’s Vote now – before we leave the EU and it’s too late.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “95% of Brexit settled? We’re still nowhere near”

  • Absolutely agree. The 95% figure is a con to jolly the people along so they are less inclined to say what’s the holdup? We then have the future relationship. That isn’t going to be settled in a few weekend get togethers. And even if we get past the Irish border hurdle, citizens and businesses will have to face up to lots of their existing rights and freedoms being taken away. Theresa May’s Brexit Plan looks a pretty Hard Brexit to me.

  • “In a separate statement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said the “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal could not be allowed to prevent or delay the UK’s departure from the EU.”

    In other words, Raab wants the meaningful vote to be meaningless. What’s the point of parliamentary democracy then? Very underhand from Raab. A man clearly prepared to ride roughshod over the parliamentary rules to get his way.