The agreement is a dense fog of words that only the prolonged light of scrunity will dispel. So beware of those who claim a mastery of it within a couple of hours of its release. And, like other publications, this site is on deadline.
At this point, one can only make out the outline of a few pillars and columns amidst the swirling mists. Here are some of the main points of interest that are visible.
On money, there is no figure – and was never going to be.
On the UK/Ireland border, there will be “full alignment”, on Strand Two Belfast Agreement matters, with the Single Market and the Customs Union. Except if the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly decide otherwise. And only “in the absence of agreed solutions” – i.e: a trade deal. The air resounds with the noise of a can being kicked down the road.
On ECJ jurisdiction over EU nationals, “UK courts shall…have due regard to relevant decisions of the CJEU” for eight years post-Brexit. Much thus hinges on the meaning of “due regard”. Send for the lawyers!
There is no sign as we write of a revolt by Conservative MPs who backed Leave during the referendum campaign: Michael Gove has been out on Today defending the deal. So in all likelihood we will move on to further negotiations on all these matters – and now also, crucially, on trade, since the Commission believes that there is “sufficient progress” to justify doing so.
These may collapse altogether. Or produce no deal worth having. Perhaps the most likely next step is that the EU offers a table d’hote Canada deal, with no special a la carte arrangement for services. And that May then presses for some special arrangement for the latter, and gets it. Whether any such settlement is satisfactory is another matter.
And even if any final trade and security deal is a durable one for Britain, it won’t replicate the Single Market access that we have now. But the logic of Brexit is that UK will also have trade deals with non-EU countries that we don’t have now, greater freedom over regulation for the mass of our firms that don’t export, control over immigration…and greater political independence.
However, all that remains to be seen, and we are getting ahead of ourselves. As Donald Tusk pointed out this morning, there is little more than a year to get a comprehensive free trade deal done – unless there’s a fudge based on “heads of agreement’, and the negotiations roll over into a transition period (which wouldn’t be an implementation one, since there would be no final deal to implement in these circumstances). In which case there would be a real risk of being stuck in transition semi-permanently.
None the less, some said we’d never get to talk trade. But now we are set to do so. That in itself is a breakthrough for Theresa May, and will win her some Parliamentary respite. It may even, as we suggested earlier this week, “change the narrative”.
For the moment, that is “all Ye know on earth”. Even if it is far from “all ye need to know”.