So, a transition deal has been done. Or rather it hasn’t. As somebody who has spent his life negotiating deals (as an investment banker, a chief financial officer and then a head of development) I can tell you that deals aren’t considered done when both parties highlight the bits of the document where they have not agreed. But that’s just what the EU and the UK government have given us. A deal, except for the hard bits like the Northern Ireland border where they’ve agreed to kick the can down the road. Michael Barnier has reiterated that no deal is done till it’s all done – which means we don’t actually have a transition deal at all, just an agreement to try to reach an agreement about the bits on which we can’t reach an agreement.
So have today’s (not very) momentous events told us anything? Actually yes – three very important things.
Firstly, we know for sure that the UK is going to have to concede on almost everything in these negotiations. Full rights for EU citizens coming to the UK during transition – agreed. Full access to UK waters for EU fishermen – agreed. Shorter transition period – agreed. A fallback where a United Ireland stays in the Customs Union, that clause Theresa May described as unthinkable – not yet out.
Secondly, we know that our negotiating team still hasn’t understood the dynamic of the negotiations. A “no deal” Brexit would hurt the EU but totally cripple the UK. We simply can’t let it happen. As a result, the nearer to March 2019 we get, the weaker our negotiating position becomes. Kicking the can down the road on real problems like the Irish border doesn’t help us; it hurts us. We needed as much settled as possible; leaving it open will allow the EU to hold our feet to the fire at the end.
Finally, we can now recognise that our hardline Brexiteer “friends” don’t care what sort of Brexit they impose on the UK, as long as they get it over the line somehow. Just like Barack Obama over Syria, their red lines have magically disappeared; their promises have evaporated like the morning mist.
We are left with a very real danger of getting the absolute worst of all worlds. A rushed transition fudge leading to a rushed final deal, with the UK obeying EU rules going forward, paying for them too, but not having services which make up 80% of the UK economy included in a free trade area and still being excluded from the key decisions our continent makes and which will impact all of our lives. Is it worth it?