The PM has secured some meaningful concessions from Brusselsby Aarti Shankar / November 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
If anybody hoped the conclusion of exit negotiations would mark a turning point, where the UK and EU could breathe easy in the knowledge a deal was on the way, they must be sorely disappointed. Of course, it was always going to prove difficult for an agreement to get through parliament, given May’s lack of a majority. But the succession of government resignations yesterday, and above all that of a second Brexit secretary, highlights just how difficult it may be for the prime minister to sell her deal in the UK.
When MPs come to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, and the accompanying aspirational declaration for future relations, they will have to consider the package as a whole. Elements of the agreement that have been locked down for a long time, including important commitments to secure the rights of EU and UK citizens, should not be forgotten.
The truth is that this deal has merits. The UK has secured some key improvements on earlier draft texts. Under the Irish backstop for instance, the prime minister can credibly claim that there won’t necessarily be a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, given the inclusion of a UK-wide joint customs area with the EU—something the Commission had been particularly reticent to offer.
Elsewhere, the Withdrawal Agreement will be governed by the UK-EU Joint Committee, and an independent arbitration panel. This is a significant shift from previous EU demands that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) act as the final arbiter, which had been unacceptable to the UK government. A role for the EU’s court is still included—any decision that requires interpretation of an EU law must be referred to the ECJ, not independent arbitration. This is similar to the governance system proposed under the Chequers plan. The UK cannot realistically expect to insulate itself entirely from the ECJ, especially in an agreement where it undertakes to apply some EU law domestically.
The agreement also grants the UK relatively favourable terms on “level playing field” commitments, in areas such as state aid, employment and environmental law. For instance, rather than agreeing to follow EU law in domestically sensitive areas such as social and employment law, the UK has secured non-regression clauses,…