A deal has been struck between the UK and the EU on phase one of the Brexit negotiations, which hinged on the status of EU citizens in the UK, the bloc’s financial claims on Britain, and the border between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland.
The EU negotiating team has, after many ups and downs, agreed that Prime Minister Theresa May has made “sufficient progress” on their demands, and will recommend the European Council greenlights progress towards trade talks — but leading Leave supporters to believe too many concessions have been made, with the country exiting the bloc in name only.
Details of the agreement published by the European Commission and comments by members of the May government and EU elite suggest a substantial blurring of Britain’s supposed “red line” on the powers of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU/ECJ) in the United Kingdom after Brexit, with environment secretary Michael Gove boasting that the rights of EU citizens will be upheld by British courts, but “of course” they will have regard for EU law when doing so — arguably giving EU citizens in Britain the status of what has been described as a “super-privileged caste”, with superior legal rights to British nationals.
EU communication on Brexit Agreement for sufficient progress, states 1. EU citizens are a super class in the U.K. a with U.K. citizens rights second class. 2. We pay EU in full 2019 & 2020 and after we pay an average sum until when? Are we leaving? https://t.co/L1GIrl27GC
— Steven Woolfe MEP (@Steven_Woolfe) December 8, 2017
“It’s pathetic,” commented Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage.
“I knew when I watch her saying live that the rights of three million EU citizens would be upheld by British courts, I knew she was lying then because you find out that actually the European Court of Justice, and I quote from the document ‘will remain the ultimate arbiter of the rights of EU citizens’ and that goes on for a further eight years.
“What have we got from this?” he continued, moving on to the subject of the so-called divorce bill, which is not given a firm figure — likely by design — but looks set to come in around the €45-55bn mark which sources disclosed towards the end of November.
“We have conceded a vast amount of money which the House of Lords committee themselves say we simply have no obligations to pay.”
WATCH | Juncker confirms May has promised that the UK will honour financial commitments "beyond 2020". We'll all be paying money to the EU for years to come – not what people voted for! 😡 pic.twitter.com/KTL6kOEdFs
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) December 8, 2017
One area where Mrs. May’s team appear to be claiming victory is the United Kingdom leaving the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market in its entirety. An earlier version of the current deal had suggested Northern Ireland might have been effectively surrendered to the EU in these areas in order to meet its demands on the border with the Irish Republic, but this was scuppered by the Brexit-supporting Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which May’s minority administration relies on in Parliament.
However, May’s method of overcoming DUP objections to semi-detached status seems to be an agreement to align Britain’s standards with the EU’s on an ongoing basis across all four Home Nations.
The text of the joint report on the agreement indicates that Mrs. May has agreed that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the [Good Friday] Agreement.”
"The party's leader, Arlene Foster, saw her father gunned down by the IRA when she was a child; a few years later terrorists blew up her school bus. A rather more testing political genesis than the one experienced by your average Shire Tory." @afneil on the DUP pic.twitter.com/IVAPOfLaxf
— BBC This Week (@bbcthisweek) December 7, 2017
Further clarifying what “full regulatory alignment” might mean, a statement by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar suggests Mrs. May is heading in the direction of a Single Market exit in name only, with Britain agreeing to continue adopting the same rules and regulations as the EU under cover of protecting the open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
“I think the fact we’re talking in terms of regulatory alignment, and full regulatory alignment, I think is very helpful, because whatever new relationship exists between the EU and the UK, if we’re going to have free and unfettered free trade, then by definition you’re going to have play by the same rules,” Varadkar claimed.
“Connected to free trade is the principle that you trade on a level playing field; you don’t have unfettered free trade with a country that has lower health standards, or lower environmental standards, or inferior labour laws, or different safety standards — so connected to unfettered free trade is regulatory alignment,” he added.
How the Irish premier squares this with the EU’s trade agreements with countries such as Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam remains an open question, as journalists at the briefing neglected to press him on the subject.
The last line of 49 reveals the fudge: we're leaving in name only, folks! pic.twitter.com/sIvzeHBER0
— Leave.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) December 8, 2017
With regard to the direction trade talks are likely to head, Varadkar appeared to foreshadow further heavy concessions by Theresa May.
“I think things are very much moving in the right direction. Brexit is a British policy. We never wanted Brexit to happen, and so obviously it’s in our interest that the Brexit that does happen, and is going to happen, is as soft as it can be,” he pointed out.
“But also I think we’re going to be getting away from this simple binary, soft or hard Brexit idea. We’re actually now getting into the detail, and I think as we get into the detail more and more, the British public, and British people, will come to understand why it makes sense, actually, that we have very similar, or almost identical, rules and regulations when it comes to trade, because that’s what facilitates free trade, is the fact that we do have the same standards.”
A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 8, 2017
“We can now move on to the next stage of humiliation,” commented Farage on social media.
“The British prime minister flying through the night to meet 3 unelected men and agree to every single one of their demands is humiliating for our country,” he added.
“Mrs May is giving away our independence. ‘In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain FULL ALIGNMENT with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union’,” agreed Henry Bolton, the UK Independence Party’s current leader.