The Week in Brexit Negotiations, Put Simply

By Blog Writer Sam Rhydderch

A recent article published in The Times has alleged that Theresa May has been secretly negotiating an advanced Brexit deal which could secure a clean withdrawal from the European Union.

In an allegation published in The Times last Sunday, senior sources have been quoted as saying that the prime minister has secured private concessions from the EU which will allow Britain to remain part of the customs union, thus avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

When asked to comment on this report Downing Street dismissed it as “speculation”, saying that negotiations are ongoing. 

The EU is also said to have offered a significant concession with regards to the checks on goods along the Irish border; according to the report the checks on goods will be able to take place in factories and shops, rather than at the Irish border.

Further highlighted in the report is the potential deal on a “future economic partnership” (FEP) with the European Union, which would allow for future talks regarding the much-discussed Canada-style free trade agreement. This agreement between the EU and Canada currently removes 99% of customs duties on goods moving between the two trading blocs but is not built on the single market; this subsequently means that the movement of services is more limited than within the single market.

The Times suggested that the proposed plan would keep the whole of Britain in a temporary customs union with the EU until the end of the agreed transition period in 2020. This would allow Britain to remain in the EU as part of the single market with free trade tariffs – thus avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. However, this would also mean Britain would have to keep contributing to the EU budget as if it were a full member.

This has caused concern among Brexiteers, who think that the whole of the UK could stay indefinitely in a customs union after the transition period ends in December 2020, with no reported time limit on the customs arrangement with the EU Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson has rejected the proposals, adding that under this plan: “we surrender control to Brussels […] we must realise it is forever – not just for Christmas.” 

A further debate has emerged this week regarding whether to provide the full legal advice on the Irish backstop to senior ministers; during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, ministers were reportedly told that only a summary of the legal advice would be made available. This has led to a crucial cabinet meeting, planned for Thursday, to be pushed back until the weekend or early next week, with ministers such as Michael Gove pushing for a release of the full legal advice to cabinet members.

Thursday’s crucial cabinet meeting would have potentially enabled ministers to sign off on the UK’s official Brexit negotiating position. Theresa May now faces mounting pressure from the DUP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats to publish the full legal advice drawn up by attorney general Geoffrey Cox, which looks into options and potential difficulties regarding the Irish backstop. Labour is reportedly seeking to force the publication through a Commons motion, known as a ‘humble address’, which was previously used by the party last November to force the release of confidential documents assessing the economic impact of Brexit.

This will give the prime minister some cause for concern in the lead up to the potential November summit with Brussels. However, she has told cabinet members to “stand by their diaries”, meaning we could see some significant progress in the coming days, with an emergency cabinet meeting still on the cards.

Sources and Further Reading

Image: Stortinget @flickr

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