So, the UK government has suffered the largest parliamentary defeat in history, on the Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. Following on from this, European Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said the UK need to tell the European Union what we really want.
Subsequently, on the 29th January, a series of backbench amendments were voted on in parliament. Two of which passed. Firstly, an amendment from Caroline Spelman (MP for Meriden), stating that the house does not want to leave without a deal, passed by 318 votes to 310. Secondly, an anemdnent from Conservative backbencher and Chairman of the 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady, stating that the house supports the PM’s withdrawl agreement if the backstop is replaced with an alternative.
What have the EU said?
So, the European Union said the UK had to let them know what we wanted, and parliament delivered. Parliament made a clear statement that they will leave with the Prime Minister’s deal, with an alternative to the backstop.
The European Union have, thus far, shown no intention if amending the withdrawl agreement and seem fairly adamant that May’s deal is the only deal. However, the European Union has said previously that the “four freedoms” (the freedom of movement of goods, people, services and capital over borders. ) come together. They took an extremely hard approach to this at the start of the negotiations, and the Chequers deal was sunk by the European Union due to this. However, May’s deal has managed to break the four freedoms down, for the first time in history. Given the EU’s previous hard line on this, they did concede to the United Kingdom’s clear red-lines.
Why would the EU concede?
It is mutually benificial for a deal to be reached, with no tariffs imposed, given that 44% of all UK Exports and 53% of all UK Imports are with the European Union, the EU is also risking £341 billion of exports to the United Kingdom and £274 billion of imports. So, just as parliament voted, the European Union also want the United Kingdom to reach a deal.
What compromise could we see?
The most likely option I can see for a compromise on the backstop, is that it is subject to review every six months. In its current state, it could be permanent, unless a Northern Ireland border agreement is reached. However, I think the most agreeable option that I genuinely believe both sides will end up compromising on, is a backstop, where both sides have to agree, every six months, on whether or not to continue it. A backstop where we vote to extend it, as oppose to voting to end it. though this is not ideal from the European Union, the vote to reject no deal in Parliament was non-binding, and to ensure that a WTO Brexit is not the legal default would require many amendments to be passed, and a lot of negotiating with the European Union which would, in reality, probably last until after 29th March.
I genuinely believe that the European Union could come to a compromise with the government fairly soon, and that that compromise will be an alternative backstop, in which 6 month extensions have to be unilaterally approved. There should, however, be a reminder to many British parliamentarians and indeed to European negotiators: The likelihood of the Northern Irish Backstop actually coming into effect is fairly slim and the EU should have confidence in the United Kingdom to respect the Good Friday Agreement. Neither the UK or Republic of Ireland want a hard border and will, realistically, do everything in their power to ensure that this doesn’t happen.