THE EU leadership last Friday morning at 6am rescued PM May from the debacle of her Northern Ireland crisis, and saved her government by agreeing to advance to the second stage of the Brexit negotiations.
They made this move because her government – in office thanks to the votes of 10 DUP MPs, purchased by the taxpayer for £1.2 billion, was near to the point of seeing them withdraw their vote, which would have seen her government brought down, and Britain plunged into a major political crisis.
The outcome of such a crisis was uncertain, to say the least, in the light of the revolutionary Brexit referendum, and the debacle of May’s disastrous ‘snap general election’ when she lost her majority. The EU opted to save May!
The 6am summit saw a statement emerge that pledged that the UK is committed to avoiding a ‘hard border’ between Ireland and Northern Ireland ‘including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls’.
However, despite DUP leader Arlene Foster’s statement after her Thursday night agreement with May, that Northern Ireland would remain outside the EU single market and the customs union, the statement pledged that in the absence of an overall trade deal, the UK will maintain ‘full alignment with elements of the EU single market and customs union which support the economy of the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.’
The statement did not provide a figure for the UK’s ‘divorce bill’ from the EU but May insists the financial settlement will be ‘fair to the British taxpayer’. The bill is expected to be between £35bn-£39bn!
Further, the UK is to continue contributing to the EU budget for the years 2019 and 2020, the projected two-year transitional period ‘as if it had remained in the Union’. It will also be subject to the European Court.
The statement further guaranteed the rights of the three million EU citizens in the UK. EU citizens living legally in the UK will be allowed to remain in the country in line with current freedom of movement principles.
The deal also allows their family members who do not live in the UK, including spouses, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren, to join them in the future. Freedom of movement could continue for two years after March 2019, although the UK says new arrivals will have to register. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will continue to have a role in overseeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK for eight years after withdrawing, and the UK must ‘establish a mechanism enabling its courts and tribunals to ask the ECJ for interpretation of those rights’.
European Council President Donald Tusk stated that the UK must respect EU law during any transition period after March 2019. This would include any new laws passed by the EU27 without British involvement.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the withdrawal treaty and transition deal needs to be ready by October 2018 – in order that they can be ratified by March 2019, before the ‘real negotiations’ begin on the future relationship. Barnier suggested on Friday that the only option for a future trade arrangement was a Canada-style deal.
The European Council wants the UK to remain a ‘member’ of the EU’s customs union and single market and to remain under the full jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during the transition period.
The EU has now warned PM May that she must unite her cabinet behind a shared vision by Xmas if trade talks are to begin. However the prospect is that May will face a leadership challenge from the pro-Brexit wing of the Tory party and may well have to look for support from the Labour benches who are already demanding that the Transitional Period from 2019 should last at least four years, or even be indefinite to put an end to Brexit.
The TUC has been long urging May to break with the 30 or so Tory MPs who, it terms ‘Brexit fanatics’, and ally herself with the pro-EU Labourites and Scottish Nationalists, in some national unity government.
For the millions of workers who voted to quit the EU and have suffered massive poverty under the Tories the issue is clear. The May government must be brought down by a general strike and a workers government brought in that breaks completely with the EU and expropriates the UK bosses and bankers to go forward to socialism!