The situation is in flux, but here is a short analysis of the situation in the UK (as of 1700 CET, 14.11.18), written primarily for a non-British audience.
The British government and the European Commission have – finally – reached an agreement, at technical level, on how Brexit is to be managed. Details of the almost 500 page document have yet to be released. But the cornerstone is a decision to keep the whole UK within the customs union for the foreseeable future, with partial acceptance of the single market rules for the province of Northern Ireland.
We are far from being out of the Brexit woods, however.
Theresa May will gain the support of her cabinet, despite likely ministerial resignations. The EU27 will almost certainly support the draft.
The next hurdle is daunting, though: May needs a majority in the House of Commons. To say the least that is highly uncertain in view of the divisions that run through both major parties, Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives government has been relying on the backing of the Ulster Unionists. This will almost certainly be denied, however. Avoiding any special status for NI is the raison d’etre of the DUP. Plus it is likely that hardline Tory Brexiters will also withhold support, arguing that the deal ties Britain too closely to the EU, notably eviscerating its ability to run an independent trade policy. Moreover, some hardline Tory Remainers are also expected to vote against. Smaller opposition parties are also opposed, so May must rely on a considerable number of Labour MPs defying their leadership and, faced with the threat of crashing out of the European Union, opting for the lesser evil of a comparatively soft Brexit. My assessment is that sufficient numbers will not vote with the government, even if it is true that Labour, with serious internal divisions, has failed to articulate a clear alternative negotiating strategy and plausible outcome.
It is probably fair to say that no-one likes the deal that has been reached. It does, though, promise to “get the job done” in terms of formally leaving the Union, while limiting the economic and political damage: that would be in accordance with the narrow Leave mandate given in 2016. Yet, there is considerable evidence that, since the referendum, the Leave majority has given way to a – small – majority for Remain. More fundamentally, the agreement indisputably puts Britain in a worse situation than the status quo of membership – the only debate is over how much worse. For the foreseeable future Britain will be a rule-taker not a joint rule-maker. And it is very hard to detect where Britain will gain greater “sovereignty” in return – possibly regarding the freedom of movement, but this is unclear.
The question in the coming days and weeks will be: which of these perceptions gains the upper hand. Minimizing certain losses. Or pulling the emergency brake, voting down the deal and throwing the issue open once again, opening up the full gamut of options from crashing-out to – via a general election or second referendum – calling the whole thing off.
In a sense, despite all the debates, little has fundamentally changed since the situation immediately after the June 2016 referendum.
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