THE WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENT: WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

The author is a researcher on UK-EU integration issues, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons

The draft withdrawal agreement is out, to much controversy. What are the possibilities for what will happen next?

The draft has gaps, so cannot be regarded as the final version. The version drawn up by negotiators is being reviewed in EU capitals. There could yet be changes if EU27 countries push for them.

Although Angela Merkel feels there is little scope for changes, the May government will be under severe domestic pressure to secure some changes so it can crow a victory of sorts. Even if the result is constructive ambiguity. Negotiators often build in some room for manoeuvre in allowing concessions.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has warned against unpicking in case the outcome is a worse offer. But as timescales are tight, I would only put the probability of a better deal for the UK at 5%, and a worse deal slightly less, say 3%.

How the Westminster Parliament will respond is difficult to predict, but the BBC only sees May getting around 264 votes of the 320 needed to pass the withdrawal agreement. The former DExEU Secretary David Davis foresaw an initial rejection.

Lord Mandelson predicts a hard Brexit, implying no-deal. The EU27 are desperate to avoid this, but their likely approach might be to hold firm and play chicken in the hope that the UK blinks first.

Although there is a suspicion that they would prefer the UK to remain in the EU, it might be more advantageous for them long-term to see a chaotic Brexit. Their dream might see the UK begging to return without its budget rebate and opt-outs, such as on the Euro.

The Court of Justice is due to rule on whether the Article 50 notification of withdrawal can be revoked, but as there is nothing in the treaties to suggest this, I see the probability as 1%.

The Westminster Parliament could vote to extend negotiations as a covert means of stalling Brexit. This would mean unwelcome extra work for Commission staff, and I could only see this happening if it were the sole means of avoiding a no-deal outcome. Probability: 5%.

Alternatively, the Westminster Parliament could vote for a re-run referendum, but this would be highly divisive and produce even more uncertainty. The timescale is not favourable when Electoral Commission guidelines are factored in. Many MPs would wish to avoid a popular backlash. Probability: 5%.

The Westminster Parliament could trigger a general election, but this would be unlikely under existing legislation (the Fixed Term Parliament Act). The Liberal Democrats have had recent financial problems and any party imposing an unwanted third election within four years could face an electoral backlash. Probability: 1%.

The Westminster Parliament would have to choose between passing a flawed deal with long-term consequences, and being held responsible for short-term economic disruption. It is my conclusion that a Parliament comprised mainly of MPs who backed Remain will pay only lip service to the Brexit referendum and ultimately pass a similar agreement. Probability: 60%.

Yet this is not guaranteed. The draft withdrawal agreement is highly offensive to Scottish and Unionist sensitivities and staunch Brexiteers who would run the EU’s gauntlet, hoping it blinked first. Would the EU really want to damage its trade surplus, its supply chains and its nationals working in the UK by being pig-headed? I am told that some continentals, notably Spain, have not started their no-deal preparations, so there would be serious consequences for them too.

Also, several pro-EU MPs would baulk at voting for withdrawal on any terms.

Time could run out for those expecting a typical last-minute EU compromise. I would put the probability of no-deal at 20%. This can be further subdivided depending on what exactly is meant by ‘no-deal’. In the sense of no agreement of any sort: only 5%. But a ‘no-deal plus’, which would mean no overall deal but with temporary arrangements or mitigating side deals in place, such as to provide certainty for EU nationals: 15%.

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6 comments

  1. Adam HileyReply

    Theresa May is a utter disgrace and needs to be run out of office now so someone else who believes in this Country not a Remoaner lackey who does She thinks she is should of gone when May botched the general election last Year lets hope the Tories succeed this time by removing Her eutruth.info

  2. Ken WorthyReply

    Odd assessment of the Parliamentary balance without considering the stance of political parties or their numbers. Labour will do anything to bring down the government, and it would be hard for more than a handful of mavericks to vote against their party on what is effectively a matter of confidence. The DUP are resolutely against, and their resolution is a lot more adamant than the Tories, who are jelly on the subject. Nevertheless, quite a few ERG Tories are likely to vote against this deal or sacrifice all credibility. Some EU27 countries are already demanding access to fishing grounds, to the horror of Scottish Tory MPs.

    It’s hard to see how a majority for the deal can be assembled. My bet is on no deal, probably by accident as time runs out. With luck we’ll get rid of Theresa May during the process.

  3. Adam HileyReply

    May has to go now for the sake of this Country at least Jacob Rees Mogg David Davis or Boris Johnson wouldn’t be so gullible when it comes to the old crooks in Brussels eutruth.org.uk britishconstitutiongroup.com

  4. Jason BReply

    She may possibly go for a No Deal to try and save her face, but with her twisting away from the Tory manifesto she has got to be removed. Well done to the DUP for making a principled stand. Any talked up further extension by the EU is a delaying, encapturing strategy to bring us back into the EU fold. I take sides with Jacob Rees-Mogg to put a halt now to this malingering and elect a true Brexiteer leader.

  5. JACQReply

    Memo to Ken Worthy
    “Labour will do anything to bring down the government, and it would be hard for more than a handful of mavericks to vote against their party on what is effectively a matter of confidence.”

    Yes, but her deal is voted down, the PM will not risk doing a John Major and attaching confidence in European Policy to a motion of confidence in her government. It is quite likely that all the Tories and the DUP could justify supporting the government in office just to avoid the Republican-leaning Corbyn and McDonnell taking over. A motion is quite likely to be lost if the PM is rash enough to go further than that.

    The DUP have recently indicated that the confidence and supply arrangement is still on and will be pushing for changes that respect their one red line over the treatment of Northern Ireland.

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