Brexit: Deal or no deal?

Last-ditch efforts to secure a Brexit agreement appear to have paid off, with the UK government trying to iron out some outstanding issues before an EU leaders’ summit today

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Last-ditch efforts to secure a Brexit agreement appear to have paid off, with the UK government trying to iron out some outstanding issues before an EU leaders’ summit today.

The deal would see the creation of a hard border between the island of Ireland, including both Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the rest of the UK.

Talks between the negotiating British and EU teams were still ongoing at the time of writing, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to once again meet Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party late at night in a last-ditch attempt to secure the party’s support, despite its concerns about having Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier indicated to European Commissioner president Jean-Claude Juncker’s team on Wednesday that a deal could be reached before the two-day summit.

Under the agreement being negotiated, the Good Friday Agreement would be preserved and there would not be any border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Effectively, a border would be drawn and enforced in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – with controls established at British ports instead of on the Irish isle.

EU Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis
EU Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis

There is hope no-deal Brexit will be averted – Edward Zammit Lewis

In comments to BusinessToday yesterday afternoon, as talks were still ongoing, European Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that there was hope that a deal would be reached and a no-deal Brexit would be averted.

Despite this, Malta was still strengthening its readiness for every eventuality, he said.

“On Tuesday, I attended a ministers’ council, together with other EU ministers, where Michael Barnier gave us a summary of the developments till then. Since then, more progress has been registered,” Zammit Lewis said.

Illustrating the dynamic at play, Zammit Lewis said that “on the one hand there is the issue of the Irish backstop, concerning customs and the arrangement regarding Northern Ireland and the UK, and Northern Ireland and Ireland as a member state. This is a historical point of contention related to the Good Friday Agreement. On the other hand, the EU and its member states are being cautious to safeguard the integrity of the Single Market and free movement.”

Safeguarding the Common Market was important to ensure the EU remained competitive with other economic giants such as the US, Japan, and China, he underlined.

“In the last few hours, UK negotiators have been discussing the agreement on a technical level, in terms of the legal text. A European Council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, and EU leaders will have to decide on any agreement reached. Every scenario remains possible,” he said.

“The first possible scenario is that an arrangement is reached by Thursday, which would be the best outcome. Malta has always insisted that this would be preferable. In such a case, 31 October would be the date of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.”

“If no agreement is reached by Thursday, but a deal is agreed to by 31 October, then the UK would request an extension to allow time for ratification and agreement on the final points. This would be an extension with a purpose to get things done after an agreement is reached, and would take place within the context of the Benn Act, a British law which forces Boris Johnson to ask for an extension if not agreement is finalised by 19 October.

“The third scenario would be a no-deal Brexit, which is the outcome we desire least.”

Malta’s preparations

Asked how these developments fit in with Malta’s preparations for Brexit, the minister said that the country had been preparing for all possibilities, but had been bracing and readying itself especially for the possibility of a no-deal withdrawal.

“In such a case, the UK would become a third-country, like other non-EU countries, and we’d have to deal with Britain differently in terms of customs and other areas. We’ve made the necessary arrangements to prepare for any eventuality, and the government is striving to ensure there is the least inconvenience for Malta.”

“We hope – and there are indications – that this won’t be necessary, but we remain true to our motto of Brexit: Be prepared,” the minister added.

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