The biggest hurdle will be the political declaration. But there may be a way to reach consensusby Marley Morris / April 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
In the latest surprise twist in the never-ending Brexit saga, Prime Minister Theresa May has offered an olive branch to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Talks between the two negotiating teams appear to be proceeding at pace.
Many have assumed that no compromise between the two leaders is possible—and given their political differences, there is every reason to be sceptical about the possibilities of a breakthrough.
But in the small chance that May and Corbyn do come to a consensus on the shape of Brexit, what might it look like?
The details of the two leader’s positions are rarely discussed—often it is tempting to dismiss Labour’s policy as impossibly vague and Theresa May’s deal as unremittingly awful. Some have even argued that their ideal versions of Brexit are identical and that the current dispute is simply a matter of political positioning. But there are real differences of substance at play here.
First, the Withdrawal Agreement. It is true that here there is little disagreement between the two leaders: on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the transition period there is broad consensus. While there may be concerns over the Northern Ireland backstop both Labour and the Conservatives hope to replace these arrangements with their own plans for the future relationship.
This is why the political declaration is so important: it contains the key to understanding how a future relationship can resolve, among other things, the question of the Irish border.
And it is in the political declaration where there are real differences of opinion. The current wording of the text is hard to decipher. It recognises the UK’s ambitions for an independent trade policy, while at the same time proposing to build on the single customs territory contained in the backstop. It refers to the UK “consider[ing]” whether to align with EU rules in relevant areas. And it talks of a “spectrum of different outcomes” for future administrative processes and checks.
Nevertheless, the declaration still points towards a hard Brexit: the text is littered with references to “regulatory autonomy” and notes that freedom of movement between the UK and the EU “will no longer apply.” On the basis of Barnier’s famous ‘staircase of doom,’ the political declaration leans in the direction of a ‘Canada-style’ Free…