Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 27th of February 2019 to The Sounding Line.
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While it may not seem like it yet, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is subsiding.
As Theresa May recently announced, there are basically three remaining Brexit options available to the UK and each will get a vote in Parliament. Those are: accept a transition period with the Irish Backstop, Hard Brexit, or a delay to Article 50 most likely involving a second referendum.
Transition with the Irish Backstop:
It is clear that the EU will not renegotiate the Irish Backstop. As we discussed in depth here, the Irish Backstop guarantees that the EU has the negotiating leverage during the transition period. It also all-but-guarantees that North Ireland, and probably the entire UK, stays in the EU customs union indefinitely. Juncker went so far as to explicitly tell the UK that the only way to renegotiate the Irish Backstop would be if the UK agrees to stay in the customs union.
The EU wants the UK in the customs union because it means the UK has to follow all EU rules, regulations, and courts, and pay into the EU budget. Meanwhile, the UK would lose its vote and representation in the EU. It would be the definition of a bad deal for the UK: all the disadvantages and costs of being in the EU with none of the benefits of being in or out of it.
The UK Parliament will have another chance to vote for the Irish Backstop transition plan on March 12th.
If Parliament votes against the Irish Backstop transition deal, they will have the chance to vote for a no-deal Hard Brexit on March 13th.
Once upon a time, Hard Brexit meant leaving the EU with a limited ‘Canada Style’ trade deal. Such a deal would probably get broad support today and satisfy nearly everyone’s demands. Unfortunately, Theresa May spent the last two years negotiating the Irish Backstop instead of actual trade deals, As a result, Hard Brexit now means leaving on two weeks notice with no deals in place anywhere in the world. Oops.
It seems very unlikely that Parliament will actively vote for Hard Brexit, all the more reason why the EU is very unlikely to renegotiate the Irish Backstop.
A Delay Involving a Second Referendum:
If Parliament rejects the transition deal and Hard Brexit, they can vote to request a delay to the Article 50 leave deadline (March 29th) from the EU. The EU is already demanding concessions to grant that extension. They will probably demand a second Brexit referendum. Perhaps they will demand a guarantee that the UK remains in the EU customs union.
Bad Outlook for Meaningful Brexit
If one assumes that Parliament will not vote for Hard Brexit, the choices boil down to the Irish backstop or a delay to Article 50 and probably another referendum or customs union guarantee. Given that nearly everyone agrees that the Brexit negotiations have been a disaster, it’s hard to see a second referendum going well for ‘leave.’
Unless you think Parliament is going to actively vote for no-deal Hard Brexit two weeks before the deadline, there is no remaining path to lead the UK out of the EU customs union.
Why the UK spent the last two and a half years negotiating a two year extension of negotiations that undercut all of its leverage, instead of just negotiating trade deals, is utterly stupefying.
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