Saturday 19 January 2019

John Downing: 'Theresa May now faces biggest test yet in getting 'her deal' pushed through'

  

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
John Downing

John Downing

It took all of 29 months since the Brexit referendum to get this far. Now things may finally move - but that might not be in the direction Theresa May would like as cabinet and parliament endorsement for "her deal" is uncertain.

But let's look now at what happens next and why.

At 2pm today, Mrs May's cabinet, with up to nine ministers doubtful about this 'Withdrawal Agreement', will gather in London. UK cabinet approval is hurdle number one.

Later today, in Brussels, the EU ambassadors from the 27 member states, including Irish Ambassador Declan Kelleher, will gather to hear fullest details of the agreement. This will prepare for a potential meeting of EU foreign ministers, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, next Monday.

That would prepare the ground for a special EU leaders' summit, possibly on Sunday week, November 25. In theory the deal needs a so-called "super majority", requiring 20 of the remaining 27 member states representing 65pc of the population.

In practice the EU leaders will expect unanimity, maintaining what has been an impressive display of unity since British voters chose Brexit on June 23, 2016.

Countries with close trading relationships with the UK will closely scrutinise guarantees on state aid rules, environment, social sectors and access to UK fishery waters.

These guarantees were strengthened in the agreement in efforts to reassure other states that the UK could not abuse unfettered access to the EU markets to undercut competitors. EU-wide approval for this UK divorce agreement cannot be taken for granted, but it is more likely and the bigger doubts will persist around whether Mrs May can get approval at home.

If there is any glitch in the timetable, the fallback may well be another EU leaders' summit already scheduled for December 13 and 14. That would make the bigger timetable exceptionally tight.

It is likely that Mrs May could seek parliamentary endorsement at Westminster in the following weeks. The European Parliament must also approve the deal. But that takes us into early 2019.

First things, first - what odds on this deal clearing hurdle number one at the British cabinet this afternoon?

Supporters of Mrs May insist that those ministers who have doubts will overcome them when they contemplate the carnage that would be a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister will also try to ratchet up pressure from UK business leaders to drive home this point.

But if it does clear cabinet, its fate in parliament - with opposition from the DUP and ultra Conservative Brexiteers, carrying the potential to put the kibosh on things - looks very uncertain. However, Mrs May has got this far and will drive on to the end - whatever that may be.

Irish Independent

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