Brexit: Deal or no deal?

By Prarthana Mitra

British Prime Minister Theresa May is ready to travel to Brussels on Wednesday to finalise the Brexit deal in a meeting with the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, officials at Downing Street reported on Monday. But the current divorce agreement has very little hope of making it past the House of Commons and, so far, neither the UK nor the EU have any alternatives besides scrapping Brexit altogether.

Roadblocks to parliamentary approval

As pressure on May mounts over the imminent parliamentary vote where the draft deal is almost certain to face rejection, the divorce agreement has already spurred intense criticism from all quarters of the government.

At least two members of the cabinet resigned after May intimated the terms of her withdrawal agreement earlier this month, which followed a meeting with the EU that Britain seeks to leave in March 2019.

Although May has managed to dispel the possibility of being ousted in a confidence vote by her own MPs for now, she is struggling to pacify hardline Brexiteers and remainers, both of whom think she is conceding too much to the EU. In the parliament, May requires seven more votes besides her own party’s in favour of the draft divorce agreement — a prospect that is very unlikely and will leave May with only crawl space for further negotiations.

Spain threatens Brexit deal

According to policial analysts, if the EU agrees to revise certain key aspects, an agreeable deal is definitely achievable. Despite this, notwithstanding EU’s stance on not changing a single clause of the current deal, EU-UK talks suffered a further setback on Monday after Spain threatened to veto it over Gibraltar’s status.

After discussions with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Spain refused to back the deal until the future trade arrangements and security relations relating to Gibraltar, a small British island on the southern tip of Spain, were clarified. Although Spain has long claimed sovereignty over the island, Gibraltarians had voted almost unanimously to remain in the EU in 2016 and have always resisted Spanish claims. This is bound to protract the negotiations.

DUP issued warning shots

Another alarm was sounded by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has had unwavering support for May’s government so far, without which the conservatives have no majority. The DUP abstained from voting in Monday’s budget as a mark of protest over the Brexit agreement which breached a “fundamental” assurance that Northern Ireland would not be separated from the rest of the UK.
This not only suggests the widespread opposition to May’s deal, but according to Henry Newman, the director of Open Europe, it is too late to demand an agreement without the backstop insurance policy that seeks to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. The drama of a potential leadership challenge, as well as Labour’s desire to play political games, underscore the weakness of May’s domestic political position,  Newman further wrote for the Guardian.
Following an impassioned debate with her cabinet last week, May had pleaded with her MPs to back her, saying that delivering the deal was “in the national interest” and any move to block it would take negotiators “back to square one, more uncertainty, more division”.
Even though she stresses that her Brexit deal will allow the UK to take back control of its “money, laws and borders”, very few conservatives and none in the opposition believe it is a very good idea. Meanwhile, the future of the £ 39 billion divorce bill and the Irish border problem dangle precariously, and with them the economic future of the UK.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

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