In order to get anywhere in life, you have to compromise. Redrafting a deal foisted on you with no time and no majority has been Herculean. In doing so, the UK have made serious concessions so we can maintain good relationships with the EU. That must not get forgotten in the understandable (and shared) joy in getting a deal agreed in Brussels. Those who weakened our negotiating hand have a lot to answer for.
What remains fundamental now is that all of us, whichever side we were once on, realise two things. That this dance has two stages and that the UK has made all its concessions in the first half.
If we had our time again, perhaps those concessions may not have been necessary. Or perhaps instead, they should never have been even asked of us. But we must not underestimate the struggle it has taken to get certain people to realise that democracy matters and that Pour Encourager Les Autres is as morally repugnant now as it was when it was first used. The lack of changes will be spun to say the PM achieved little – only the removal of that hated backstop which everyone said was impossible. But he has achieved more. His biggest win was in making sure there was no change here:
Article 126: Transition period There shall be a transition or implementation period, which shall start on the date of entry into force of this Agreement and end on 31 December 2020.
And that makes a huge difference. Under May’s proposal, the idea was to ratify the treaty (Withdrawal Agreement) in advance, pretend it wasn’t awful for a couple of months, then start a two-year transition, then wait until the EU inevitably said “computer says no” and the backstop began, trapping us forever.
Don’t miss it, the PM has two big wins: the backstop is dead and the transition itself reduced by half. In those circumstances the whole deal becomes much easier to tolerate (the £39 billion bill is also reduced).
The political declaration deserves its own consideration in time; but it is worth flagging up now how it signposts June 2020 as the deadline for the Future Trade Agreement (or ‘FTA’). Either way, having been forced to make our concessions now, the pressure is now completely off the UK and on to the EU – either there is a deal in eight months or they suffer and they caused it. In those circumstance why would we not even demand our cash back?
There’s no voting against this deal unless you want to remain. The Brexiteers are the grown-ups in the room if they back this. And I hope that, if (or when) one of the 27 try to leave in future, we use our strength outside the EU to support them. Freedom of choice is a keystone to a post-Imperial world; and it is better for everyone if empire, of any kind, is consigned to the past.