Politics 

BREXIT: AT LAST A WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT

by Nazir Tabassum

 

After all, a withdrawal agreement consisting of 585 pages has been drafted. The document is a road map for the UK to leave the EU scheduled for 29 March 2019. It’s important to lay out first the important points of this agreement and then to evaluate these critically and logically.

  • The transition period, termed as implementation period by the UK government will begin from 29 March 2019 and end on 31 December 2020
  • It would be imperative upon the UK to abide by all the rules of EU, yet losing membership of all of its institutions.
  • According to the draft withdrawal agreement the transition period can be extended just for once only and that too for a limited period.
  • Agreement over the extension period by the UK and the EU is obligatory and it should be decided before July 2020.

It clearly indicates that Mrs May’s government that has been crying hoarse during all this while they are taking back control, yet it is giving back control for no less than 21 months and this could possibly be even longer. The UK would be distinctly absent from European Parliament, from the top table of the European Commission as well as from the European Court of Justice. This withdrawal agreement has made the UK unable to make or amend the EU rules, but it makes them to follow the rules until that time when the withdrawal procedure is finalised. However, the transition period provides enough time to the businesses and the governments to give a shape to the new set up and arrange for smooth sailing out of the EU. Another good thing about the transition period is that it gives the UK an access as usual to the databases on important issues like security.

The draft agreement provides us with information about what amount of money the UK will have to pay to the EU, often termed as the “divorce bill” to settle all of its obligations. The agreement is blank so far as the figures are concerned, yet it is expected that the UK will have to pay £39 billion, not just in one instalment, but over the years. A part of this amount would be payable during the transition period. Member countries of the EU contribute regularly and yearly to EU budget. This year’s contribution of the UK has been estimated to be £10.8 billion. In case the transition period is extended, the amount to be paid will also increase. And for that amount a separate agreement would have to be reached at.

We have been noticing that the UK government was wary about the “divorce bill”, but ultimately it dawned to them that unless the payable amount of money is settled, only then they could take the right course of action to quit EU. There is a lot of controversy in the UK about the money payable and the possible returns out of it. Yet in case of default, the future relations would certainly become sore and trade relations would surely suffer.

The draft withdrawal agreement ensures the residency and social security rights of the UK citizens living in the EU and the EU citizens living in the UK. Citizens who would like to take up residency in any of the EU countries, including the UK, during the transition period would be freely allowed to do so. Those living in any of the EU countries for five or more years would be entitled to citizenship of that country.

Though EU gives a guarantee of the citizenship rights and the politicians are also trying to make sure that the residency rights would be secure, yet there is a lot of confusion, anxiety and uncertainty in the people during the Brexit procedures. Another four points need to be detailed here under:

  • In case no long-term trade deal is settled by the end of 2020 that avoids the hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and in case transition period is not extended, then a backstop consisting of “a single customs territory between the EU and the UK” will become operative.
  • Northern Ireland would be allowed to keep close and better customs relations with the EU than the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland will have closely aligned rules and regulations of the EU single market.
  • Theresa May has said this would undermine the integrity of the UK, by creating a new border in the Irish sea.
  • Mrs May has suggested the UK as a whole could remain aligned with the EU customs union for a limited time after 2020, when the planned transition period ends. This is the solution in the draft EU withdrawal agreement. There are certain Tory Brexiteer MPs who are of the opinion that backstop is unnecessary because hard border can be avoided by technological solutions.

During the referendum campaign, Mrs May openly campaigned for “Remain”, but after the referendum, she changed her stance on the pretext that British people want it. So, as a PM she reiterated that “Brexit means Brexit” and then triggered Article 50 that gives two years period for procedure to finally say goodbye to the EU. She wrote to Donald Tusk, the EU Council President to start negotiations over the deal. In Florence, Italy, she addressed an audience in which she produced the blue print of transition period. Later in March 2018, she opened up her mind about the trading relationship the UK wants with the EU.

When, soon after the Easter Bank Holiday in 2017, she astonished everyone by declaring June 8 for snap elections. These were intended to make her position strong in the parliament that would give her strength while negotiating Brexit with the EU leaders. She could not hide her fears when she said that the Labour, SNP, and other opposition parties including members of the House of Lords could create hurdles to her strategy, Alas! She failed to improve her position in the Commons and in order to remain in power had to beg support from DUP.

On Sunday (25 November), after 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders of the EU agreed over the draft Brexit withdrawal deal. This time it took them less than an hour to reach at the agreement.

Donal Tusk, President of the EU Council tweeted: “EU 27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future of EU-UK relations”.

Mr Tusk said: He would not speculate on what would happen in such a situation as “I’m not a fortune-teller”.

John-Claude Junker, EU Commission President: “Anyone in Britain who thought the bloc might offer improved terms if MPs rejected the deal would be disappointed.

The UK Parliament is expected to vote on the deal on 12 December. There is little guarantee that it would be approved because Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and many conservative MPs are determined to vote against it. Mrs May says that though there are compromises, yet this is a “good deal that unlocks a bright future for the UK”. She has begged people to support her.

She addressed a news conference in Brussels and said the agreement would:

  • End freedom of movement “in full and once for all”.
  • Protect the Constitutional integrity of the UK.
  • Ensure a return to “laws being made in our country by democratically elected politicians, interpreted and enforced by British courts.
  • The agreement would not remove Gibraltar from the “UK family” – a reference to a last-minute wrangling with Spain over the territory.

Something in the air indicates that Westminster will soon be in the grip of a crisis. The deal is going to be tabled before the Commons in the second week of December. For Theresa May it seems unlikely to get it through from the Parliament. She is governing with a working majority of just 13; to defeat her only 7 Tory MPs are required.

The BBC researchers have pointed out that 81 Tory MPs have said they object to the deal Mrs May hopes to sign off with EU leaders on Sunday. Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, all are set to vote against the deal.

If this agreement is really defeated, at the moment there seems to be no way forward. Let’s wait and see which way the wind blows.

 

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