Yesterday the UK and EU sides of the BREXIT negotiations agreed on a draft text which will form the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement which will go forward to Friday’s European Council meeting for approval. But even if the European Council agrees to the new draft text (not to be confused with the previous draft text ) there is still a long way to go before the final agreement will face votes in both the British and European Parliaments.
Firstly, Ireland. Theresa May in her letter to Donald Tusk reaffirms the Government’s view that the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998 must be protected in all its parts. She goes on to say that “the commitments in the Joint Report on which more work is needed include our guarantee of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and to preserving North-South cooperation.” Even in this late stage of negotiations, the border question, so crucial to the livelihoods and security of people in Northern Ireland, remains glaringly unresolved. There will be no final Withdrawal Agreement unless the Irish Border question is resolved.
Secondly citizens’ rights. The removal of Article 32 from yesterday’s second draft is either a worrying administrative error, or the scope of rights applicable to UK nationals and their families living across the EU is being left intentionally unclear. EU and UK citizens should not be used as bargaining chips in this process and their rights should be guaranteed. Again, there will be no final Withdrawal Agreement unless citizens rights are crystal clear.
Finally, the European Council will not only approve the draft text on the Withdrawal Agreement on Friday but they will also sign off on guidelines which will shape the discussions and potentially determine the future EU-UK relationship. Last week the European Parliament approved a resolution which supported the new relationship being akin to an association agreement with four key areas: trade and economic relations, security, cooperation on foreign policy and defence, and thematic cooperation including cross border research and innovation.
To watch my country give up its international influence, its say over decisions that impact on its citizens and its seat at the top table to enter into an inferior relationship with its most important trading partner, is not a position I can advocate. In order to protect jobs, our economy and the future unity of our country, we need to either remain part of the EU and, if that is not possible, remain part of the single market and customs union through an EEA/EFTA plus relationship.