Is anybody willing to say that the UK is winning concessions from the European Union in Brexit negotiations? Because I’m not.
The Tory government will say that the latest serious of capitulations is a great victory because it ensures that businesses have time to make their preparations.
But how many of those businesses will decide that those preparations involve their departure from the UK?
In these days of international free trade agreements, it’s easier for a business to relocate for the sake of tariff-free commerce than to stay in a country that is about to lose those benefits.
Those changes will worsen the UK’s economic situation – of course. But business is business.
The EU has agreed to park outstanding disagreements for now and proposes a 21-month transition period that would last until December 2020.
Considering it could have refused to budge unless everything was resolved, this is what counts for progress in Brexit-land. The pound duly recovered some of its recent losses on the news.
The UK has paid a high price to get to this point. A series of once unimaginable concessions are now baked into the withdrawal agreement, with more likely to come if Britain wants to avoid everything falling apart again in nine months’ time.
Last month Theresa May insisted no British prime minister could possibly agree to the “backstop” proposal outlined by the EU. It sought to prevent a hard border after Brexit by keeping single market rules the same in Northern Ireland. Now, the UK has gone back to a position it appeared to accept in December that a backstop is acceptable – so long as both sides keep working toward technological and legal alternatives that might avoid this necessity for full regulatory alignment.
Almost as hard to swallow for Brexiteers is the British decision to abandon any immediate attempt to take back control of its fishing waters.
David Davis accepted the 21-month transition period on offer from Brussels rather than the 24 months he once proposed because he said the two were “close enough”. But the real surprise is the absence of any provision to extend the period if the future trade talks are not all wrapped up in time.
The treaty will commit the UK to a £40bn divorce bill stretching out until 2064.
Throughout the transition phase, Britain has now accepted it will have to abide by EU rules, particularly freedom of movement.
The only bright spot is confirmation from the EU that the UK will be allowed to negotiate new trade deals elsewhere during the transition period – something both sides have always said was likely anyway.
There is certainty for EU citizens as a result of another climbdown over whether they will continue to enjoy their rights in the UK during transition, but campaigners fear the concession is not entirely reciprocated.
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