Brexit: What do we know about the deal, and is it all sorted? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.11.2018
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Brexit: What do we know about the deal, and is it all sorted?

In what could be a possible breakthrough, UK Prime Minister Theresa May will present a draft Brexit agreement to her cabinet, the parliament and the country. Here's a look at what we know so far.

What's in the deal?

The draft is said to run to a mammoth 500 pages of legalese and appears to contain a solution to one of the most controversial issues of the Brexit negotiations, namely what to do with the Irish border. Negotiations had reached a cul-de-sac over the possibility of a "hard border" between the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK and would leave the EU with the rest of the country). The prospect of different custom rules has triggered concerns of a hard border and revival of conflict in Northern Ireland. 

It's believed that the UK has now agreed there will be a UK-wide customs backstop which would maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an overarching deal. 

Currently, goods and services are traded between the two jurisdictions with few restrictions.

Read moreEU Customs Union, Single Market, Brexit — What you need to know

So it's all sorted?

Well, no. The backstop, it seems, is only temporary and an independent panel will be set up to assess when the backstop could be terminated. It's also highly unpopular with the euroskeptics in May's Conservatives like former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.  

According to EU sources, the draft proposal envisages the UK and the EU deciding in July 2020 whether they will have a new deal in place to ensure an open Irish border after the post-Brexit transition ends. Post-backstop, the UK could then either move toward a free-trade deal, stay within the customs union arrangement or extend the transition period, possibly until the end of 2021 (The current plan foresees a period of 21 months to ensure a smooth transition towards the UK-EU's future permanent relationship). However, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up May's government, has said it will not support such a backstop agreement, which would see Northern Ireland remain aligned on regulations with the EU in order to avoid a hard border. The DUP says that any new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country would undermine the UK's economic sovereignty and integrity.

That's why the deal is now believed to include a UK-wide backstop — the main expected new development — in a bid to appease the DUP and to make Northern Irish status the same as the rest of the UK.

What happens next?

The Houses of Parliament shrouded in fog (Getty Images/O. Scarff)

Parliament could throw a spanner in the works of any potential deal

Theresa May has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Wednesday afternoon, following one-on-one briefings with cabinet members on Tuesday. If May secures their support, she will embark on a campaign across the UK to sell the deal. Meanwhile, the remaining EU27 countries will have to give their backing, before a special EU summit can be arranged to formally approve it. If that goes according to plan, May will then present the deal to parliament, expected to be in mid-December.

If parliament doesn't back it — a very real scenario given the divisions within May's Conservatives and the fact that they need opposition votes to get it through — the threat of a no-deal would once again rear its head. That would leave the UK in limbo on trade and on the status of EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in the EU.

Meanwhile, the supporters of a second referendum will likely use this point of the bill's passage to push for a second vote.

Should an accord be reached in the UK, it would then need approval from parliaments across Europe.

All the while, the clock ticks mercilessly on towards the scheduled date of the UK's exit from the EU, on March 29 next year.


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