Prime Minister Theresa May has succeeded in uniting the British people against the common enemy—Herself.
Brexiteers and Remainers who only yesterday were at each other’s throats have turned as one to sink the political axe firmly into the back of their prime minister and her draft Brexit deal with the EU.
It took less than 24 hours for Dominic Raab– the man Mrs. May placed in charge of Brexit negotiations—to resign. He refused to allow his name to be associated with the agreement. He was preceded by the junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara. At least nine other cabinet ministers are known to oppose the deal and it is quite possible that there could be more resignations before I finish this piece.
Wait, here comes another one, the resignation of Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has just popped up on my screen. The prime minister will need a political miracle to win parliamentary approval for her deal. Voting against her will be the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, her some time allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, a fistful of former cabinet ministers and a large number of disgruntled backbench Tory MPs.
Mrs May is on record as saying: “Leave means leave” and “no deal is better than a bad deal.” In the eyes of both Remainers and Brexiteers the deal the prime minister has struck results in leave means remain without any say in the construction of Europe’s rules and regulations. This a worst deal rather than a mere bad deal and the prospect of much vaunted global trade deals to replace commerce with Europe have flown out the window.
Here are the bones: Divorce bill of £39 billion; transition period of 21 months to give businesses a steep downhill slope exit rather than a cliff edge; transition may be extended if jointly agreed; a trade deal to be hammered out during the transition period; EU citizens currently In the UK can remain and work and bring their relatives; Brits in Europe can do the same but uncertain about whether they can cross borders; the rulings of the European Court of Justice have the force of law during the transition period, including new judgments; the transition period can be extended indefinitely but Britain would have to pay for the privilege and fishing rights remain unresolved.
Then there is a sticky problem of Ireland which has bedeviled these negotiations as it has British history for centuries. Both sides were keen to avoid a north-south hard border which could spark a return to “The Troubles.” The result is that during the transition period—or extended transition period—all of the UK will remain in the Customs Union. Northern Ireland will remain in it afterward with additional ties to Europe. Furthermore, an agreement on ending the customs union will be a joint decision between the EU and UK. Britain cannot unilaterally decide to leave the customs union. Its future will be decided by Brussels.
This result was inevitable. The Brexiteers entered these negotiations without a clear goal, divided and with an exaggerated sense of their importance. Britain is paying the price and will remain divided.