The past week has been quite eventful regarding the ongoing Brexit negotiations. The EU presented the first draft of, what is to be, the final withdrawal text. This draft is based on the points agreed on by the UK and the EU in December. There have been various reactions to the draft proposal, one of them coming from the British PM Theresa May who announced her ‘five tests’ to the negotiations. These five tests set out the requirements which need to be fulfilled in order for Britain to agree to a Brexit deal. One requirement is that the agreement needs to protect security and jobs in the UK.
The Thorny Issue of Irish Borders One, if not the most important aspect which still has to be settled is the question of the border in Northern Ireland. In December all parties agreed that a hard border in Northern Ireland should be avoided at all costs. A hard border would entail extensive border controls making the movement of people as well as goods more difficult and thereby imposing limits to both. So far, however, there is no solution on how to avoid this. Therefore, the draft proposal, at this point, includes that Ireland will be a ‘common regulatory area’. This means that Northern Ireland would stay a part of the customs union, as well as the single European market, while the rest of the United Kingdom leaves both. But the draft text also provides that if the EU and UK can reach another agreement regarding Ireland and Northern Ireland, these protocols would lose all relevance. What does this mean concretely? There are several possible scenarios of what the withdrawal texts will look like. It is highly unlikely that the UK will agree to the current draft, seen as Northern Ireland staying in the Customs Union and the Single European Market is a threat to the integrity of the UK.
The Three Likely Scenarios What does this mean for the Brexit talks? I believe there are three possible scenarios: either the UK presents an alternative solution the EU can accept. This is the ideal scenario as all parties would be satisfied because no hard border would be necessary, and the integrity of the British state would not be affected. This scenario is rather unlikely, but since there is still some time left this scenario is not entirely impossible. In the second scenario, the UK and the EU can agree to the withdrawal text the way it is written now. This is what Theresa May referred to in her speech on the 2nd of March: both sides need to make concessions so that a compromise can be reached.
I do not believe that this scenario will change the current text regarding the border, as this seems to be the only solution at the moment. However, the EU might make some concessions to the UK, making the final text acceptable to both sides. In my eyes, this scenario is the least likely, both sides are hardening their positions, making concessions highly unlikely. Of course, one should not underestimate the effect time pressure can have since the UK cannot afford to have any deal at all. However, at the moment the negotiations seem rather stagnant. This leaves us with the last scenario: there will be no deal between the UK and the EU. Both sides would not be able to agree, leaving the British no choice but to reject the withdrawal text. Right now, this is, unfortunately, the most likely outcome. This would mean a hard Brexit, as well as a hard border in Northern Ireland. There is still time left and further negotiations can bring the talks back to a friendlier tone. Consequently, an agreement between the UK and the EU is still possible one simply needs to see how the negotiations evolve because, at this point, they can go in both directions.