May con­fi­dent about Brexit deal pass­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ex­pressed con­fi­dence that she’ll be able to push the newly minted Brexit agree­ment through her na­tion’s Par­lia­ment, de­spite heated op­po­si­tion from U.K. law­mak­ers vow­ing to block the deal that took nearly two years to ne­go­ti­ate with the Eu­ro­pean Union.

“This is the deal that is on the ta­ble. It is the best pos­si­ble deal. It is the only deal,” Mrs. May said after her gov­ern­ment sealed the agree­ment with lead­ers from the EU’s 27 other mem­ber na­tions dic­tat­ing the terms of Bri­tain’s de­par­ture from the bloc by early 2019.

Dur­ing a meet­ing in Brus­sels, EU lead­ers took barely half an hour to rub­ber stamp a 585-page with­drawal treaty, set­ting the stage for Bri­tain’s long-awaited, for­mal exit from the bloc in March — to be fol­lowed by a three-year tran­si­tion pe­riod.

The deal, which EU and British of­fi­cials have been ne­go­ti­at­ing amid heated pol­i­tics on all sides since Bri­tons shocked the world in June 2016 by vot­ing to leave the bloc, must now be for­mally adopted by the British Par­lia­ment. If ap­proved as it stands, Bri­tain would exit March 29, but re­main party to the EU’s sin­gle-mar­ket econ­omy and bound by the bloc’s rules un­til the end of De­cem­ber 2020.

While the de­par­ture would mark the first time a mem­ber na­tion has ex­ited the EU in the nearly half-cen­tury his­tory of Eu­ro­pean uni­fy­ing de­vel­op­ments that led up to the 1993 es­tab­lish­ment of the bloc, ma­jor is­sues re­main.

The agree­ment stip­u­lated that a tran­si­tion pe­riod sur­round­ing Bri­tain’s de­par­ture could still be ex­tended — stretch­ing po­ten­tially into 2022 — if EU lead­ers and British law­mak­ers de­cide more time is needed to fi­nal­ize new trade re­la­tions be­tween the U.K. and the Eu­ro­pean bloc.

But even with such flex­i­bil­ity baked in, British crit­ics pounced, claim­ing the deal is des­tined to slam the na­tion’s econ­omy and ac­cus­ing the May gov­ern­ment of fail­ing to fight hard enough for long-term as­sur­ances that Bri­tain won’t be hit by harsh EU tar­iffs down the road.

Jeremy Cor­byn, who heads the U.K.’s main op­po­si­tion La­bor Party, called the deal “the re­sult of a mis­er­able fail­ure of ne­go­ti­a­tion that leaves us with the worst of all worlds.”

Mr. Cor­byn vowed to block the deal in a Par­lia­ment vote, which the May gov­ern­ment says could oc­cur be­fore the end of this year. La­bor’s goal, Mr. Cor­byn said, will be to vote the deal down, but then “work with oth­ers to block a no-deal out­come,” which most on Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape agree would be even worse for the British econ­omy.

La­bor, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Cor­byn, still has time to fight for a “sen­si­ble deal” that in­cludes a per­ma­nent cus­toms union be­tween the EU and Bri­tain and pre­serves un­fet­tered British ac­cess the EU’s sin­gle­mar­ket econ­omy, while also guar­an­tee­ing cer­tain rights and priv­i­leges for British work­ers.

Scot­tish First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon, whose Scot­tish Na­tional Party is the third-largest in the British Par­lia­ment, also ex­pressed dis­taste, say­ing law­mak­ers “should re­ject [the deal] and back a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive.”

Pro-Brexit for­mer Con­ser­va­tive leader Iain Dun­can Smith said the deal “ceded too much con­trol” to EU Par­lia­ment. And, North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party, which props up Mrs. May’s mi­nor­ity Con­ser­va­tives in Par­lia­ment, said it too would try to block the deal on grounds it binds Lon­don to too many EU rules that may weaken North­ern Ire­land’s ties to Bri­tain.

Among other key points in the agree­ment was a con­ces­sion by Bri­tain to pay roughly $50 bil­lion to cover con­tri­bu­tions to staff pen­sions and com­mit­ments to EU pro­grams that the U.K. had pre­vi­ously agreed to make as a mem­ber of the bloc through 2020.

But Bri­tain ap­peared to have scored a ma­jor con­ces­sion in re­turn, with the deal assert­ing that British cit­i­zens liv­ing and work­ing in EU mem­ber na­tions — as well as EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in Bri­tain — will con­tinue to have rights to live and work with­out visa or pass­port ram­i­fi­ca­tions.

At the same time, one of the most con­tentious is­sues, that of fish­ing rights — specif­i­cally who has ac­cess to U.K. and EU ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters — re­mains un­re­solved. The deal said only that the two sides should “es­tab­lish a new fish­eries agree­ment,” ide­ally by July 1, 2020.

An­other con­tentious is­sue, that of po­ten­tial changes along the bor­der be­tween the north­ern U.K. and Ire­land, which will re­main an EU mem­ber, ap­peared to be re­solved. The deal com­mit­ted Bri­tain and the EU to a so-called “back­stop” so­lu­tion to guar­an­tee the Ire­land-U.K. bor­der re­mains free of cus­toms posts or other ob­sta­cles once Brexit is fully for­mal­ized.

Mrs. May ac­knowl­edged vast po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions at play and promised British law­mak­ers will have their say on the deal be­fore Christ­mas, say­ing it “will be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant votes that Par­lia­ment has held for many years.”

The prime min­is­ter stressed that Par­lia­ment has a duty “to de­liver Brexit,” which British vot­ers de­manded in a na­tion­wide ref­er­en­dum. “The British peo­ple don’t want to spend any more time ar­gu­ing about Brexit,” she said. “They want a good deal done that ful­fills the vote and al­lows us to come to­gether again as a coun­try.”

Still, some ar­gued that the de­vel­op­ments are likely only to lead to par­lia­men­tary grid­lock. “It is true that the British peo­ple mostly don’t want to spend any more time ar­gu­ing about Brexit,” ac­cord­ing to an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished on­line by Bri­tain’s Guardian news­pa­per. “But when leavers and re­main­ers are united only in dis­lik­ing Mrs May’s so­lu­tion, that of­fers no way for­ward.”

EU lead­ers were quick to warn that no bet­ter of­fer is avail­able.

The last big ob­sta­cle to a deal was over­come when Spain lifted its ob­jec­tions over Gi­bral­tar, where Bri­tain seeks to re­tain con­trol of a 300-year-old British naval base.

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Pe­dro Sanchez said that he was sat­is­fied with British guar­an­tees Madrid will at least be given a say in the fu­ture of the base be­tween Spain’s south­ern coast and Morocco.

Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent JeanClaude Juncker, mean­while, pushed back against U.K. law­mak­ers threat­en­ing to block the deal in British Par­lia­ment.

“I am to­tally con­vinced this is the only deal pos­si­ble,” Mr. Juncker said. “Those who think that by re­ject­ing the deal that they would have a bet­ter deal will be dis­ap­pointed the first sec­onds after the re­jec­tion.”

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said her feel­ings were “am­biva­lent, with sad­ness, but on the other hand, also some kind of re­lief that we made it to this point.”

“I think we man­aged to make a diplo­matic piece of art,” she said.

Dutch Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte called the deal re­gret­table but ac­cept­able. “I be­lieve that no­body is win­ning. We are all los­ing be­cause of the U.K. leav­ing,” said Mr. Rutte. “But given that con­text, this is a bal­anced out­come with no po­lit­i­cal win­ners.”

Mrs. May said she wasn’t sad, be­cause Bri­tain and the EU would re­main “friends and neigh­bors.”

“I rec­og­nize some Eu­ro­pean lead­ers are sad at this mo­ment, but also some peo­ple back at home in the U.K. will be sad at this mo­ment,” she told re­porters, but in­sisted she was “full of op­ti­mism” about Bri­tain’s fu­ture.

“This is the deal that is on the ta­ble. It is the best pos­si­ble deal. It is the only deal,” British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said about the new Brexit agree­ment with the Eu­ro­pean Union.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Pe­dro Sanchez said that he was sat­is­fied with British guar­an­tees in the newly rene­go­ti­ated Brexit deal that Madrid will at least be given a say in the fu­ture of the base be­tween Spain’s south­ern coast and Morocco.

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