European Leaders endorsed on November 25th, in a short and rapid session of the extraordinary European Council, the withdrawal agreement of the United Kingdom and approved a Political Declaration that define the main lines of the future relation with the UK. The text of the agreement as well the political declaration were sent to all EU capitals for their analysis and have their previous approval that was formally given last Sunday at the European Council. The Political Declaration that was agreed on Wednesday 21 by the President of the Commission and the Prime Minister Theresa May consist of 36 pages and 147 paragraphs. It offers an advantageous and privileged relationship to UK with the EU, and include the possibility to extend the transitory period of withdrawing up to two years.
The agreement sets out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the EU (and from the European Atomic Energy Community) as it stated on its article 1, that was agreed on November 14th by both sides, at the level of the negotiators and finally endorsed by the EU leaders. On this basis, the European Council invited the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to take the steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on March 30th, 2019. It will regulate the relation on all the aspects of the UK withdrawal, including securing the rights of citizens of both sides that are developed in Part Two of the agreement. However, the most controversial issue was Article 184, regarding the “negotiations on the future relationship”, that was raised by the Spanish government a cause of the future status of Gibraltar, that from the Spanish perspective should be ensured that, the Gibraltar future relationship with the EU, will be negotiated bilaterally between UK and Spain.
On the other hand, the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom offers an exceptional relationship in all fields, ranging from the commercial relations to the judicial cooperation. It also includes foreign and defense policy, recognizing that in the future those fields can be extended more than is prescribed in the Declaration. In the field of air transportation, a comprehensive agreement will be negotiated that will cover the access to the Market, the investments, and air traffic management. The same framework will be arranged for the railway and road transportation. The cooperation between Brussels and London will reach unknown level in comparison with other third countries, especially in judicial and police cooperation, with the application de facto, of the Euro order for extraditions. In security and defense, an essential chapter for the UK, the EU concede to UK the possibility to take part in part of its programs and operations, and anticipates the presence of British companies in the future projects of the European Defense Agency (EDA). For its part, the Prime Minister Theresa May have granted some important concession such as to accept 50.000 Millions of euros to recognize, in a certain way, undefined rights for 4 million of Europeans who reside on British soil. This last thing has raised more rejections in the British political mainstream that may block the ratification of the agreement.
Notwithstanding, in the hours before the Summit, Spain raised the possibility of vetoing the withdrawal agreement if a written clarification about Article 184 was not added to the agreement. Why this article was about to ruin the negotiated agreement? The reason is founded in the European History. In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht, which concluded the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) determined that Spain ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain. From then, UK and Spain had held talks to renegotiate the statu quo of Gibraltar but without concrete results. Finally, a last-minute compromise to save the European Summit was reached. The Commission and the Council issued a written declaration ─alongside one more ambiguous one from the UK─ supporting the Spanish position that disassociated Article 184 of the Agreement regarding any future negotiations on the EU-UK relationship. It also acknowledges that a Spanish consent is needed regarding any change involving Gibraltar’s status. These declarations are considered legally binding for both parts.
The final stage of the Brexit?
The EU concluded the 20-month hard negotiation for the Brexit. Never has such a hard and tedious agreement put into question the unity of the European club. The President of the Commission Jean Claude Juncker has declared that this is the best and only agreement possible, in a message for hard brexiters and those in the British parliament who now have to ratify the agreement. Once the Spanish issue was resolved, the 27 EU leaders endorsed the text in only 25min session. With this agreement already agreed upon by all parts, the final adieu will take place next March 29th, the last day that UK will be a Member State. Before that, however, many things may happen. The British Parliament will vote the text next December 12th, but the predictions are not optimistic. Already 90 conservative deputies have declared that they are going to vote “No” on the deal. The Labor Party, through its leader Jeremy Corbin have declared that they will also vote “No”, as will the Unionist party that have 10 votes in the Parliament. Overall, it seems that the Prime Minister will not have an easy task to get the simple majority needed to ratify the EU deal. Once it is passed, the Agreement will go to the European Parliament, which will have to approve it according to Art. 50 (2) TEU. This is predicted to be towards the end of February. The political landscape seems complex and other scenarios could arise: first, a rejection from the British parliament that forces a re-negotiation of the brexit to get a new one (i.e. in a Norwegian style deal) or even a period of reflection that could end in a second referendum to leave or remain in the European Union. On the other hand, hard brexiters, suggest, that no deal is better than a bad deal, which could be even more dramatic than the economic harm caused by Brexit vote. A no-deal Brexit, could have extremely negative effects. Essentials drying up, travelers stranded, motorways gridlocked and economic relations ruled by the general rules of the WTO that can ruin the car-making industry due to the approximate 10% tax that the EU would impose on British imports. These things bring down governments and undermine faith in democratic politics. As was stated in the Council after the Summit, the most complicated part of the Brexit begins now.
Joel Diaz Rodriguez