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Resignations and rebellion as Theresa May unveils Brexit withdrawal agreement

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If there's one thing that Brexit has done successfully so far, it’s get people emotionally invested. This rings true this week as tempers, resignations and letters of no-confidence flare following Theresa May’s unveiling of the EU withdrawal proposal.

The 585-page withdrawal agreement is an expected give and take, offering a solution to the issue of trade at the Irish border, addressing the rights of citizens living in other countries, and addressing what businesses can expect in the upcoming transition. Many, however, including Brexiters, claim that the May has given up too much ground in order to find a deal.

Dominic Raab, an original leave supporter, resigned as Brexit Secretary following the release of the agreement. In an interview with BBC on Thursday he says he resigned because the proposal may “lead to an indefinite if not permanent situation where [the UK] is locked into a regime with no say in the rules and the laws applied with no exit mechanism.” The result, according to Raab would  “be damaging for the economy but devastating for public trust in our democracy.

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrews

Other cabinet resignations came from junior Brexit Minister Suella Braverman and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who says we have gone from “no deal is better than a bad deal to any deal is better than no deal.”

On Thursday, amidst laughter and calls for her resignation, Prime Minister May spoke to the Speaker of the House regarding the negotiations to leave the European Union. While she did insist that the terms laid out aren’t final, they absolutely show the direction of the negotiations in the lead-up to the UK’s departure from the EU in March of next year.

House of Commons

Image courtesy of UK Parliament

Here are some key terms of the agreement…

• The 3 million EU citizens who’ve been living in the UK and the 1 million UK nationals who’ve been living in the EU for more than 5 years will be permitted to stay permanently. This includes those who are both working and studying, as well as their family members.

• The host state, however, will not be obliged to give student grants or loans to non-permanent residents

• Visa-free travel between the UK and EU countries will remain.

• The proposal ensures that businesses will only have to deal with one set of changes during the transition.

• No hard border between Northern Ireland, which is currently part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, which is a member of the EU (in the short term).

While many of those key terms sound positive for both sides, it’s the fine print between those terms that are raising tensions. The UK, for instance, had to sign up to a myriad of EU rules and regulations regarding competition, environment and social policy. Further, the deal as a whole doesn’t give the UK much power in disputes that arise regarding these terms.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, says “this is not the deal the country was promised and Parliament cannot and I believe will not accept a false choice between this bad deal and no deal.”

Image courtesy of Chatham House

Others have chimed in to say the deal is dead on arrival.

According to Tory MP Mark Francois, “it’s mathematically impossible to get the deal through the House of Commons.” In that light, the deal would need a majority vote among the 638 MPs to pass in the House of Commons. With many tight-knit voting groups having already spoken out against the proposal, estimates show that nearly 400 seats will be looking to shoot the agreement down.

While calls for May’s resignation during her address could easily be seen in jest, they may actually be gaining traction, as growing numbers of MPs call for her to be ousted through letters of no-confidence. Brexiteer MP Anne Marie Morris says there is enough time to install a new PM and change course, claiming “now is not the time for her leadership.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg submitted a letter of no confidence, saying that the draft withdrawal bill was worse than anticipated and failed to meet promises made by Prime Minister Theresa May. In his letter, he wrote: “It is in opposition to the Prime Minister’s clear statements that this was something that no Prime Minister would ever do…”

As a result of the agreement, its opposition and the resignations that followed, the UK pound tanked 1.8% against the US dollar this week. As staggering as an immediate drop like that is, Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium suggests it could get worse.

“It is vital that we avoid the cliff edge of no deal in March 2019 as this could immediately lead to consumers facing higher prices and reduced availability of many everyday products.”

Accordingly, the S&P estimates that the pound could slump as far as 15% against the US dollar if the deal were to fall through, leaving Britain to crash out of the EU.

While the overwhelming consensus agrees that the deal is not perfect, those on the manufacturing side of the coin insist that it’s simply better to know what lies around the bend. In a statement through BBC Radio, German engineering magnate Juergen Maier insisted that “What we need is certainty.”

One crucial caveat in the proposal is that it only defines the terms of the divorce, leaving many businesses a murky forecast when it comes to the long term trading relationship between the UK and its primary trading partner following the transition. The joint proposal even goes so far as to specify that negotiations regarding future trade had been “particularly challenging”, which doesn’t offer tonnes of confidence moving forward.

A special European council will be called to go over the provisional terms on 25th November, but it seems as if negotiations are just starting to ramp up.

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