THERESA MAY certainly ends the latest ‘make or break’ week of her premiership in better shape than it began – her Brexit deal, secured after frantic calls through the night, paves the way for long-awaited trade talks to begin with the European Union.
Both the Prime Minister – and Brexit Secretary David Davis – deserve credit. If their efforts had failed after Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party vetoed Monday’s initial agreement, the Government’s future would have been in serious doubt.
Not only has Mrs May bought herself some time – and, apparently, the grudging respect of EU leaders in the negotiations – but this breakthrough significantly lessens the likelihood of a potentially catastrophic no-deal Brexit in March 2019.
Yet it’s not the beginning of the end. Far from it. It’s just the end of the beginning. This compromise – Mrs May and EU president Jean-Claude Juncker alluded to ‘give and take’ by both sides – has to be rubber-stamped by Parliament and the 27 remaining members of the European Union.
Nothing can be taken for granted ahead of next week’s EU summit. Remain campaigners in Britain wanted to stay in the single market and customs union. This option is no longer open to them. Will they now try to disrupt and thwart the whole process?
Though EU nationals residing here, and UK citizens living in Europe, will welcome the clarity, Brexiteers are unhappy that the European Court of Justice will have jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens living in the UK until 2027.
Then there’s the still unspecified cost of Britain’s divorce bill – up to £39bn according to briefings – and the fact that Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Republic of Ireland is effectively on hold, despite the diplomatic language, until trade talks conclude. Day-to-day practicalities will be key.
Though Britain won’t be paying a lump sump – its financial obligations will continue for years and, possibly, decades to come – it’s not the Brexit championed by Mr Davis, and others, during the referendum.
Yet critics need to remember that Mrs May is not just representing one standpoint. She’s negotiating on behalf of the whole country – this week’s dramas served as a reminder of this – and there’s every likelihood that Tory backbenchers, and the DUP, will become more emboldened when it comes to eking out future concession because they know that the PM is bereft of a Commons majority. Can she face them down?
That said, the success – or otherwise – of Brexit will largely depend on future trading relationships and the positive response of business leaders is encouraging. Future jobs and prosperity depend on the ability of the country’s wealth-creators to do deals with the EU – and the wider world.
As such, it would be preferable if they had far greater input in the next talks. It can’t all be left to Theresa May. Though her short-term position is strengthened – until the next crisis – the whole country needs to get behind her and secure the best deal for Britain. She’s earned that much at the very least.