In recent weeks, Theresa May has resembled the dismembered Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Despite receiving seemingly fatal blows, she somehow survives and carries on regardless. Think what you may of the Prime Minister, her determination is something to behold.
Today, she reaped quite the reward. Against the odds, despite posturing (on both sides) and contrary to rumours in the press, the UK and the EU have now reached some semblance of an agreement and are set to progress beyond phase one of Brexit negotiations – having now ironed out some of the concerns surrounding the UK’s divorce bill, citizens’ rights and future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
No one can pretend this deal is perfect and, at first glance, it looks like time is being bought and faces are being saved. The agreement on the Irish border, for example, remains incredibly vague and really only talks of future ‘commitments’ to a porous border and maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s not clear from this document whether the UK as a whole will now stay in the single market. Still, at least it’s something in writing.
In terms of meeting budgetary obligations, the UK will fork out something in the region of £39 billion. This figure will be seen as a victory for those in favour of leaving the EU who opposed the oft-touted, £50 billion fee. By the same token, Remainers will argue that paying this sort of settlement was never mentioned during the referendum campaign and represents a colossal waste of money. Far from coming from a ‘magic money tree’, a close look at the Autumn Budget 2017 sees the axe taken to many UK Government departmental budgets – including, ironically, some (HM Revenue & Customs and the Foreign Office) who will be left holding the mucky end of the post-Brexit stick.
For the four million EU citizens living in the UK there was some good news. Indeed, as a result of this deal, the PM assured us all that they will be able to “go on living their lives as before.” As outlined in the agreement, EU citizens will have a guaranteed right to stay in the UK – as will their partners and children. Citizens’ rights can also be enforced by the European Court of Justice for up to eight years after withdrawal, giving peace of mind to many and causing disdain among those who view the upheld supremacy of European law as a massive capitulation.
This deal is – relatively speaking – good news. More than a year and a half on from the vote and after months of genuine turmoil, this does represent a step forward and ushers in an element of grownup decision making. Despite this, the stakes are only going to get higher.
The oncoming debate (on all that is up for stake) will be red in tooth and claw. The EU will continue to drive a hard bargain and the UK Government will be fighting on many fronts – both in Europe and domestically.
A solution to the Irish border headache is as far away as ever, with the PM effectively in a check-mate position. A bespoke deal for Ireland will raise that hackles of the DUP and the SNP, while full single market access for the whole of the UK will see Leaver lynch mobs reaching for their burning torches.
With a finalised deal still far away, Labour beginning to shift its position, the DUP threatening to sink the government, the cabinet at war, restless backbenchers, a resilient EU27, a wounded PM, economic turbulence and a stunning general misunderstanding of what Brexit actually means, today’s deal perhaps only represent a pause to catch our breath.