UK secures Ireland border deal

British PM Theresa May has agreed to a “legally binding” deal with the EU around the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ to secure Brexit, and will put that to a vote in the Parliament on Tuesday. Talks with EU leaders are ongoing.

Background 

On June 23rd, 2016, Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union, stunning Europe and the world in general. The EU employs a set of policies for its 28-member states that aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods and trade among other services. Britain is deeply intertwined with the workings of the EU especially with regard to trade.

Over the two years, leaders of member nations have expressed their dismay over Britain leaving the body. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are among those who have been vocal about their apprehension regarding the events that are unfolding.

In December 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May struck a last-minute deal with the EU regarding key issues. According to this deal, there will be no "hard border" in Ireland. The rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU would also be protected. The deal was rejected by the British Parliament in January 2019. 

The UK is officially set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

Analysis 

During the negotiations with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg, British PM Theresa May has secured legally binding changes that “strengthen and improve” the original Brexit agreement, her Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington told reporters Monday evening.

British lawmakers have the choice to “vote for this deal or plunge the country into a political crisis,” said Lidington, noting that the EU has made clear this will be “the only deal on the table.”

Though the talks are continuing, Lidington said that May and Juncker have agreed on two documents, the first of which provides that the EU cannot try to “trap” the UK with the Northern Ireland backstop. If that happens, the document allows for the UK to launch a formal dispute process through independent arbitration.

The draft joint statement outlines commitments by both the UK and the EU to expedite the process of enacting a future relationship and to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” by 2020. That provision will be legally binding, Lidington said.

May’s government considers the backstop issue “critical” to Brexit, which is due to on March 29. Brussels insisted on it remaining a part of the deal as an “insurance” as recently as January, however.

The backstop has been a point of contention because, under the previously agreed Brexit roadmap, it would leave the UK subject to EU rules regarding the border with Ireland. Restoring a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic could reignite hostilities that had lasted for decades while reintegrating Ireland as one is not an option for May, whose coalition depends on support from the hardline DUP of Northern Ireland.

May’s Brexit plan was crushed in the Parliament in January, and it remains unclear if lawmakers will approve the changes. If she loses the vote on Tuesday, the Parliament will be asked to vote on a no-deal Brexit and, if that vote fails as well, they’ll be asked for a delay.

The UK has spent nearly three years trying to negotiate a divorce from the EU, following the June 2016 referendum that resulted in the surprise victory of those in favour of Brexit.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that with the Brexit date less than three weeks away, a failure of this latest ‘agreement’ in the British Parliament will lead to a chaotic situation in the UK. We believe that the resolution of the Irish border will become increasingly troublesome if the UK exits the EU and assumes that temporary stop-gap measures will be sufficient to handle the border.

Image Courtesy: European Parliament from EU (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:May_at_the_EP_(46110747095).jpg), „May at the EP (46110747095)“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode