London (CNN)We have a deal! Well, sort of. A mere 872 days since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the text of the “withdrawal agreement” has been agreed on between the two sides’ negotiating teams. British Prime Minister Theresa May now has to persuade her Cabinet members to give her their blessing. Unfortunately for May, that’s only where her headaches start.
Selling the deal to the Cabinet
It’s long been acknowledged that the biggest problem May faces is the political reality in London.
There is very little love on any side of the Brexit debate for her plan — and that starts at Cabinet level.
May’s Cabinet is deeply divided between ardent supporters of Brexit and those who voted to Remain. She must now convince the Brexiteers that the text, which is expected to include an arrangement that keeps the whole of the UK in close alignment with the EU, fulfills the result of the 2016 referendum.
If she fails, then she would likely have to return to Brussels to renegotiate — if she isn’t forced to resign. However, should she win her Cabinet Brexiteers over…
Then it’s back to Brussels
With the UK Cabinet in line, an emergency summit of the EU council — the 28 member states that make up the European Union — will be called for November. Or, at least May hopes it will.
At this summit, the member states will agree to the withdrawal text, allowing it to move to legislative chambers of both the EU and the UK.
Owing to the fact the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has at every stage worked closely with the EU27 — the 28 member states minus the UK — it’s assumed that this will be little more than a rubber-stamp exercise.
Next, to the House of Commons
This will be the trickiest part of the process, and the PM could be forgiven for banging her head against a wall.
Having spent months dealing with the EU and seeing a succession of government ministers resign over her handling of Brexit, she must then face her own Parliament. Last year, it won the right to have a vote on the draft agreement — something the government was keen to avoid.
This is known in the UK as the “meaningful vote” and it allows MPs the chance to give their verdict on the contents of the withdrawal text and the associated political agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Since May lost her majority in Parliament after an ill-advised a snap election in 2017, the arithmetic has looked challenging for her.
The priority for the opposition Labour Party is to bring down May’s government and force an election, so it is virtually guaranteed to vote against the deal. But May also knows that a significant chunk of her own MPs detest the agreement she has struck with the EU and are ready to vote it down.
Then there’s the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, or DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up her government. The DUP has been adamant from day one that any deal that undermines Northern Ireland’s place as part of the United Kingdom would lead to them voting against the PM.
If May loses this vote, then all bets are off. The government has long maintained that it’s her deal or no deal, but in reality it could still make an appeal to Brussels and try to get some further concessions.
In theory, the government — at this point led by May or someone else — could bring a revised deal back to the Commons and have another go at getting it through. Failure to do so would most likely result in the government falling, a general election and myriad potential outcomes, including a second referendum.
But if she wins this vote…
Even more drama in the Commons
Assuming the meaningful vote passes — a huge assumption at this point — it then needs to be translated into UK law. This is where the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill comes in. That will formally make legal the terms under which the UK will leave the European Union and enter the implementation period.
Normally, lawmakers can amend legislation such as this, and frustrate the government. But as Brexit is an agreement between the UK government and the EU, which doesn’t have a vote in the House of Commons, it’s hard to see how MPs could influence it (though they could make life very difficult for the UK government).
Failure of the vote to pass at this stage would presumably lead to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, and a major political crisis. But, if May manages to get the withdrawal bill through…
Still more drama in the Commons
Next, the seldom talked-about Constitutional Reform and Governance Act of 2010, which requires the government to lay before Parliament any changes to international treaties with an explanatory memorandum.
At this stage, one would assume that having cleared Parliament this would be a done deal. But Brexit has always been an ugly street fight. Those still opposed to the deal going through could be expected to pick up whatever rocks they can find and hurl them at the government.
Back to Brussels
If the deal has made it this far, the final process of ratifying the agreement moves to the European Parliament. Seeing as by now the agreement will have already been agreed at Council level and in the UK’s Parliament, it is hard to see a reason for the EU Parliament to mess it up — especially as most in Brussels want Brexit out of the way so they can concentrate on the European elections, taking place next year. But Brexit, as you might have gathered by now, can be weird. However, assuming it passes this final phase…
Bong! 29 March 2019 — Brexit day
Despite the wishes of many hardline Brexiteers, Big Ben will not chime in the UK’s new era of independence.
But should that day be marked by the draft agreement the Cabinet is thought to be shown on Wednesday this week, those Brexiteers will likely consider themselves to have lost the battle and have little to celebrate.
Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT) November 14, 2018
Sources from: CNN
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