The sooner clarity is provided in Brexit negotiations, the better
Arrangements for Britain’s exit from the European Union have implications around the world. The latest deal must act as a catalyst for further progress
The deal struck on Britain’s exit from the European Union last week is a much-needed first step in what were always going to be long and complex negotiations. The agreement between the UK and the EU on three key issues means talks can now move on to the next stage. This is crucial, as the clock ticks down to the UK’s scheduled departure in March 2019. But the deal, almost 18 months after Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum, leaves many questions unanswered and much work to be done. The next phase, establishing a transition period and, ultimately, the nature of Britain’s relationship with the EU, will be much more difficult to achieve.
The agreement was sealed in time for a meeting of EU leaders next week. It has given embattled Prime Minister Theresa May some breathing space. The deal almost fell through, amid concerns from her coalition partners about plans for the Irish border, and was only reached after frantic last minute negotiations. The deal also tackled the divorce bill to be paid by Britain as well as the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. Even on these issues, there are doubts about whether this agreement will stand. A telling phrase in the joint report states that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. And there is still much to be agreed. The divorce bill, at £35 billion-£49 billion (HK$365 billion-HK$511 billion) is conditional upon a trade deal being struck, May says.
The Irish border agreement establishes principles, but further talks are needed to finalise details. Meanwhile, British citizens in Europe have expressed concerns that the agreement will fail to protect their rights.
Last week’s deal sheds little light on the fundamental question of what Britain’s relationship with the EU will be after Brexit. How closely will it be aligned to the EU system? May’s government is deeply divided on the issue and tough decisions are going to have to be made as the negotiations continue. The Brexit arrangements have implications not only for Britain and Europe, but around the world. The sooner clarity is provided, the better. Last week’s deal, for all its ambiguity, must act as a catalyst for further progress. Divisions must be narrowed and solutions found.