The draft Brexit withdrawal agreement is a very important achievement. It holds the potential for an orderly UK withdrawal, includes a transition period that can be extended, and has far-reaching provisions to address Irish concerns, including avoiding a hard border and protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
However, Brexit was always going to fall far short of the unrealistic aspirations of many of its advocates. It was always about damage limitation. This reality is now playing out in Westminster and it is impossible to predict what this means for ratification.
For the EU, the current deal is the only one on the table. This position will not shift over the coming weeks or months. Today the UK Prime Minister Theresa May spoke, not unreasonably, of the only alternatives to the agreement being ‘no deal’ or no Brexit.
Yesterday I met Tánaiste Simon Coveney, and Ministers Pascal Donohoe, Heather Humphreys and Regina Doherty. We discussed the practical implications of the agreement for business. Despite the drama in London, we agreed that it is worth focusing on what the draft deal contains, which is still likely to frame a UK exit.
For over four years of the Brexit debate, Ibec has been working with the Irish Cabinet, Government officials in Dublin and Brussels, and subsequently with Michel Barnier’s team, to deliver the best possible outcome. We have made common cause with key business groups in the UK and across Europe, and have worked through the Ibec-CBI Northern Ireland Joint Business Council to safeguard business interests across the island.
There are very significant successes in the draft agreement. Below is a quick summary of our initial aims and how they are addressed:
- A smooth exit: The deal provides for an orderly UK exit, rather than the chaos and disruption of a ‘no deal’ cliff edge outcome.
- Comprehensive transitional arrangements: A newly agreed mechanism to extend the transition period is a welcome acknowledgement that negotiating the future EU-UK relationship will be complex and time-consuming. This is a key Ibec objective.
- Unique Irish challenges addressed: The all-UK customs backstop, along with additional regulatory alignment for Northern Ireland, will avoid the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the all-island economy. The continuation of the Common Travel Area recognises the shared labour market that exists across the UK and Ireland, and will help to minimise any disruption to this as a result of Brexit. The deal includes many other provisions to address specific Irish challenges and support the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
- The closest possible future relationship: This is a matter for future negotiations. However, the aim of achieving the same ease of doing business between the EU and UK than that provided for in the all-UK customs ‘backstop’ points to very close future relations. This is good news for business in Ireland, the UK and the wider EU.
- A prosperous and competitive future EU: Beyond Brexit, the EU will continue to have a defining influence on our well-being and prosperity. Ireland has a bright future in the EU, we've set out our business priorities and we're working to make it even brighter.
Clearly enormous political hurdles remain before a deal is ratified. These can’t be ignored and business, along with government and the EU, must work to avoid a ‘no deal’ cliff edge outcome. The sooner we have clarity the better.
Ibec will continue to support your business in these uncertain times. Please get in touch with any queries or comments.