The Brexit process needs to discover a middle ground
Ambassador Muhammad Zamir writes for DOT :
As things stand, Brexit is likely to happen without a deal on 29 March, and no unilateral British legislation can alter that date. Unless the UK revokes the Article 50 secession process entirely, finally and irrevocably, the EU will cut off the UK as a member state at midnight on that Friday.
An extension of Article 50 is possible, but, fraught with difficulty. That the EU institutions have refused to reopen the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement is an indication of how difficult it has been to negotiate with the UK in the first place. Analysts are observing that ingenuity and generosity on behalf of the EU at this point can hardly compensate for the shambolic nature of the UK’s efforts to end its membership.
Some are still seeing a glimmer of hope as the Political Declaration is open for modification. They believe that this is possible based on what has transpired through – the conclusions of the European Council of 13 December, the exchange of letters between Prime Minister May and Presidents Tusk and Juncker of 14 January, the ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons to reject the Withdrawal Agreement on 15 January, the subsequent vote (Brady amendment) of 29 January, which instructed the government to renegotiate the Irish backstop, the debate in the European Parliament on 30 January, the recent exchange of letters between Mr Corbyn and Mrs May, the joint statement of Mr Juncker and Mrs May after their Brussels meeting on 7 February, and, finally, the Commons debate on 12 February.
They are pointing out that the legal base of the Declaration is Article 50 and the document exists only in the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the Union. Its purpose is to accompany and elucidate the Withdrawal Agreement. Consequently, as far as the EU is concerned, the Declaration should be viewed as the first draft of the Commission’s mandate for the negotiation of the future association agreement, and not itself as the legal mandate. However, the negotiation of the final deal can only begin after the UK has ceased to be a member state of the Union and will be conducted on a different legal base and according to different procedures.
In the meantime Jeremy Corbyn leader of the opposition has underlined to the British Prime Minister some requirements- (a) a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, including alignment with the EU Customs Code, (b) close alignment with the Single Market, underpinned by shared institutions and obligations; (c) clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and programmes and (e) unambiguous agreements on future security arrangements. In her reply to the Labour leader Mrs Mayhas noted that: “It is good to see that we agree that the UK should leave the European Union with a deal and that the urgent task at hand is to find a deal that honors our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, can command support in Parliament and can be negotiated with the EU – not to seek an election or second referendum.”
Speaking to the House of Commons on 12 February, she has also confirmed her intention to seek improvements to the Political Declaration to which Mr Corbyn could lend his support:
Some common ground has to be found.
The rest of the world- the developed, developing and the least developed countries have been watching the Brexit process and the associated moments of drama and many near cliff edges with anxiety and concern. Bangladesh, believes that any substantive changes that can make the deal more palatable, most notably regarding the Irish border backstop needs to be given greater consideration in practical terms and not be treated just as an existential question.
Fabian Zuleeg has suggested that a possible and pragmatic way out. He has suggested an aspirational scenario in the Political Declaration that would deliver a frictionless border, potentially including: (a) a common customs territory between the UK and EU (in part fulfilling Jeremy Corbyn’s demands); (b) dynamic/automatic regulatory alignment of the UK but only in areas crucial to maintain a frictionless border; (c) where checks are necessary, whenever possible they should be aided by technology and take place off border through alternative arrangements; (d) a UK-wide solution, maintaining the integrity of the UK Single Market; (e) a clear commitment that any arrangement will not jeopardize EU governance and the integrity of the EU Single Market; (f) provisions for agriculture to enable an integrated agricultural market on the island of Ireland; (g) enabling small traders/services to continue operating across the border; and (h) continued freedom for people to cross the Northern Ireland/Ireland border, i.e. the Common Travel Area.
This means that both sides in the British Parliament might have to pay a high price for such a centrist compromise. It will require a deviation from party unity and adversarial politics. But, at this stage, it appears to be the only chance left to avoid No Deal scenario.
Both sides also need to remember that the Association Agreement will have to include arrangements for a deep and comprehensive free trade area and a customs accord, taking into account a degree of regulatory alignment that will be determined in the course of its negotiation. Given their high level of economic interdependence, the Parties will also have to agree to work together for the sustainable development of both the UK and Europe, based on a competitive social market economy aiming at full employment and social progress.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, can be reached at <[email protected]>