Theresa May has had a tough time of late. After postponing the vote on parliament on her final Brexit deal and facing the backlash from both opposition and Tory MPs, as well as surviving a recent vote of no confidence from her own party, it is clear that Brexit is becoming more of a catastrophe than many imagined. Day by day, the Conservatives are looking ever more discordant due to the negotiated deal’s flaws.
Opposed by Brexiteers and Remainers alike, the withdrawal agreement is seen as a deal that is in between a ‘soft Brexit’ and a ‘hard Brexit’. On 29th March 2019, the UK will leave the EU and enter into the transition period, which will allow businesses and governments to figure out and get ready for the future relationship the UK and EU will have. This will last until the end of 2020, during which time the UK loses its presence in the European Parliament and in the European Court of Justice, yet it will still have to fully abide by EU rules. This transition period can be further extended, provided both the UK and EU agree to it.
In terms of citizens’ rights, they have mainly been unchanged from the Chequers plan May proposed. UK citizens in the EU and vice versa are able to keep their residency and other rights after Brexit, as well as apply for permanent residency. It also contains the details for the financial settlement or ‘divorce bill’ the UK will have to pay. Whilst missing an exact figure, many speculate it could total £39 billion, which is a significant sticking point for many Brexiteers. Fishing rights are still not clear, with the agreement stating that a completely new and separate agreement on fishing alone is required. This has always been a contentious issue between the UK and the EU which remains to be resolved, a subtle hint as to how future trade talks may end up.
The main problem with May’s Brexit deal is the issue of Northern Ireland and the backstop option. When the UK leaves the EU, it will share a physical border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. If both parties do not reach an agreement on the future trading relationship, a backstop option is triggered. Under this backstop, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU customs union and will be more closely aligned to the EU than the rest of the UK. Goods coming in from Northern Ireland will then be checked before they enter the mainland. Despite frictionless trade between the border and no hard border being set up (something which no one wants to see), several MP’s within the Conservative Party have voiced their discontent towards the backstop, which leaves a part of the UK being treated differently to the rest. It leaves Northern Ireland in the customs union, something which Theresa May vehemently said will not happen. The DUP are also in opposition, stating that they do not want a deal that treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the country. Remain-supporting MP’s still prefer staying in the EU and are calling for another referendum and the Labour opposition still believe that they could negotiate a better deal than this one. Facing oppositions from all sides, it is no wonder that May postponed the vote on her deal in parliament. But having a no-confidence vote triggered by her own party was an unwise and unnecessary move – the last thing this country needs is more uncertainty at this crucial moment.
It, therefore, seems that we are edging closer and closer to a no deal scenario if this deal is not voted for in parliament in January, which would cause serious damage to the UK economy and hinder growth in the long term. To break this almost certain deadlock in parliament, many MP’s have suggested a second referendum is best. However, this angers many Leave voters who see it as a ‘loser’s vote’ and insist that the Remainers should just accept the vote and ‘get on with it’. But it is not as simple as people want to make it seem. The 2016 referendum only offered voters a binary choice – leave or remain. We had no idea what Brexit would look like if we left. Now in 2018, we are faced with multiple options, many of which Leave voters themselves are split by. By putting it to the people, the government will be forced to take the path the people want, thus breaking the current parliamentary deadlock. However, the arguments against another referendum are also serious. The public will lose faith in the democratic system and will lead to a national uproar that the government may not be able to control. But many Remain voters have already felt that way since the referendum. Whatever happens in the upcoming January vote, there are only three months left until Brexit officially happens. Divisions in this country have never been clearer. With no clear path for the country to take, it seems these divisions will have to get worse before they can get any better.