After more than two and a half years since the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), including tense negotiations between both parties, some final Brexit concessions have been made.
One of the most contentious issues throughout has been the existence of a ‘backstop’ that was agreed to by the UK and EU.
The backstop guaranteed that the UK would stay temporarily aligned with current EU rules (and effectively in the EU customs union) after it exits to avoid creating a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Appearing in a joint press conference in France on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced they now had legal clarity around their agreement.
“MPs were clear that legal changes to the [Irish] backstop were needed. Now we have secured legal changes,” May said.
Chiefly, there is now a legally-binding agreement that guarantees the backstop is a temporary measure and that both parties will need to make other arrangements by December 2020, after the UK presumably exits.
The news eases fears that the backstop, intended to be a stop-gap measure, was to become the permanent status quo and keep the UK tied to EU rules.
While the new details will help to make Brexit more palatable to British MPs when they vote on it on Wednesday, it’s unclear whether it will be enough to see it pass.
“It is a giant step forward from the European Union… we’ve made real progress here,” Chris Weston, head of research at brokerage Pepperstone, told Trading Day.
“It could, in theory, get enough votes on but it’s very unlikely that the bill is going to pass at this stage.”
But while the announcement is no doubt a win for Theresa May, Juncker also issued a warning to the UK and its policymakers.
“In politics sometimes you get a second chance. It is what we do with this second chance that counts because there will be no third chance. There will be no further interpretations of the interpretations and no further assurances from the reassurances if the meaningful vote tomorrow fails,” Juncker said, sitting alongside May.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately dismissed the progress.
“The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament,” Corbyn said in a statement. “That’s why Members of Parliament must reject this deal tomorrow.”
If that does come to pass, it would again open up the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, where the UK bows out of the EU with no agreement in place.
In any case, if the deal is voted down, the EU will extend its deadline yet again but cannot do so indefinitely, according to Weston.
“Juncker has made it pretty clear that you take this or you don’t take anything else at all,” he said.
“It’s last chance saloon.”
Watch the full commentary above.