Saturday 15 December 2018

Q&A: 'Round one' goes to May - but now the real struggle beckons


British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a Brexit statement at Downing Street in London, England. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a Brexit statement at Downing Street in London, England. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

Are we sure there will be no return of a 'hard Border' in Ireland?

Assuming this draft deal sticks, the answer is a big yes. The EU, UK and Ireland all agreed no return of border controls. But they could not agree on how to do this.

Last December, the EU and UK agreed the so-called 'backstop' in principle for the North, to apply if the EU and UK could not agree a long-term trade relationship.

It involved the North staying in the EU customs union, thus avoiding tariffs, and close to the EU single market's rules on product standards.

But it all caused ructions with the DUP and the ultra-Brexiteers in England who feared it would undermine the United Kingdom.

In the end, the EU agreed that the entire UK can stay in the customs union and close to the single market at least until December 2020 and very likely beyond that time.

How will the new, improved backstop work out?

The new UK-wide backstop dials down the Northern Ireland-only backstop - the so-called "backstop to the backstop" - and is overlaid and less visible. But the controversial parts which still enrage the DUP and Brexiteers are an insistence that the UK cannot leave the arrangement, and pursue global trade deals, without EU agreement. There is also a clause that if the UK leaves there must still be special treatment for the North. That is too much for the DUP.

Is this a victory for Ireland?

Yes - unless there is some hidden sting in the tail. Former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a veteran of dozens of EU summits, has acknowledged this. The Opposition has not offered any strident criticisms.

Staving off border controls was the Government's primary aim. And it has been achieved.

Mrs May achieved cabinet approval - will it pass the Westminster parliament?

It is not encouraging. There are officially 650 parliament seats. It is generally agreed some 320 votes are needed to win. There will be defections from Mrs May's 315 Conservatives, and the 10 DUP MPs, propping up her minority government, are sworn to vote no. She is unlikely to benefit from too many defectors from Labour's 257 MPs or the 12 Liberal Democrats. Both those parties will vote no.

The Scottish National Party has 35 MPs, but is miffed over the North getting better treatment over Scotland and EU countries getting fishing waters access. It's a hell of a hill to climb.

So, what next?

An EU summit is on November 25.

Irish Independent

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