Tag Archives: United Kingdom

UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement: What does it all mean?

Alicia Nicholls

On March 22, 2019, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) and nine of the fifteen States comprising the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), a subgroup of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, signed the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement (CARIFORUM-UK EPA)  which seeks to ensure that the current trade preferences between the UK and CARIFORUM remain after the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).

This makes CARIFORUM one of nine trading partners with which the UK has to date successfully concluded a trade continuity agreement. This development has been widely welcomed by businesses and private sector associations in the Caribbean. But why was the CARIFORUM-UK EPA necessary and what does it provide for?

The CARIFORUM-UK EPA is between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the one hand, and the fifteen CARIFORUM States (Antigua & Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Commonwealth of Dominica, The Dominican Republic, Grenada, The Republic of Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago), on the other.

Nine of the CARIFORUM countries (Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines) signed the Agreement on March 22, 2019 at a signing ceremony in Castries, St. Lucia. Two other CARIFORUM States, Trinidad & Tobago and the Dominican Republic, signed on April 1, 2019 and on April 4, 2019, respectively. The remaining CARIFORUM States have indicated they will sign shortly.

Why is the CARIFORUM-UK EPA necessary?

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on April 12, 2019, unless a further extension to June 30, 2019 requested this week by the UK government is granted by the EU-27.  Until the UK officially leaves the EU, the UK’s trade relations with the fifteen CARIFORUM countries remain governed by the CARIFORUM-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (CARIFORUM-EU EPA) which was signed and has been provisionally applied since 2008.

The CARIFORUM-EU EPA provides for the asymmetric liberalization of trade between the EU and CARIFORUM States. This includes duty-free and quota-free goods access, preferential access for services providers and investors, and protection for intellectual property. It also includes disciplines relating to government procurement and competition, for example, as well as extensive development cooperation provisions.

When the UK ceases to be an EU member, the CARIFORUM-EU EPA will continue to apply between CARIFORUM States and the remaining EU-27. However, the UK will no longer be party to any of the EU’s trade agreements with third parties, including the CARIFORUM-EU EPA. In the absence of a trade continuity agreement, trade between the UK and CARIFORUM would revert to World Trade Organization (WTO) Most Favoured Nation (MFN) rules. This would have implications for businesses, services providers and investors in the UK and CARIFORUM States dependent on the preferential market access provided for by the CARIFORUM-EU EPA.

A great summary of current CARIFORUM-UK economic relations may be found in the report prepared by the Secretary of State for International Trade for the UK Parliament. According to statistics from the UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) cited in that report, total goods and services trade between the UK and CARIFORUM States (excluding Haiti) accounted for 0.2% of total UK trade and was £2.5 billion in 2017.

Although there has been a steady decline in CARIFORUM-UK trade over time, the UK currently remains the main market for CARIFORUM exports to the EU. For example, it is a major market for Caribbean rum, banana and sugar exports. Additionally, the UK remains an important source market for tourists to the Caribbean and in the case of Barbados, remains that country’s largest source market for tourist arrivals and real estate foreign direct investment (FDI).

To avoid any disruption in trade and to create some modicum of certainty for UK and CARIFORUM businesses and consumers once the UK leaves the EU, the UK and CARIFORUM promptly commenced dialogue on the conclusion of a trade continuity agreement that would replicate the provisions of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, to the extent possible.

What does the CARIFORUM-UK Agreement include?

The CARIFORUM-UK EPA, whose main text comprises seventy-six pages, replicates to the extent possible, the text of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA. The previously mentioned Parliamentary Report provides an excellent synopsis of the Agreement, including the necessary differences between the CARIFORUM-UK EPA and CARIFORUM-EU EPA.

Where necessary, the CARIFORUM-UK EPA has removed and replaced references to the EU in the text,  provided for the continuation of time-bound periods, as well as limited the territorial scope of the Agreement to the CARIFORUM States and to the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and Gibraltar.

The CARIFORUM-UK EPA will only take effect once the UK has left the EU. Similar to the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, the CARIFORUM-UK EPA provides for provisional application which allows it to be provisionally applied before all the parties have done the necessary domestic ratification steps to allow for the Agreement’s entry into force.

Additionally, the CARIFORUM-UK EPA provides a safeguard in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. A non-legally binding MoU between the UK and participating CARIFORUM countries aims to stop the gap between the date the CARIFORUM-EU EPA ceases to apply to the UK until the date when the CARIFORUM-UK EPA takes effect. Under this MoU, the parties will use their best endeavours to bring the CARIFORUM-UK EPA into effect as between them within three months of the MoU’s coming into effect, during which time the UK will apply the tariff schedule laid out under the CARIFORUM-UK EPA to those CARIFORUM States which have signed both the CARIFORUM-UK EPA and the MoU. So far, the UK has signed an MoU with the original nine CARIFORUM signatories and another MoU with Trinidad & Tobago.

Since the CARIFORUM-EU EPA’s signature in 2008, many developments have impacted on rule-making in trade agreements. Like the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, the CARIFORUM-UK Agreement includes mechanisms for monitoring the Agreement’s implementation, as well as a revision clause allowing for the parties to broaden or amend the Agreement, including the possibility of bringing the UK’s British Overseas Territories within the scope of the Agreement.

The institutions under the CARIFORUM-EU EPA have been replicated in the CARIFORUM-UK EPA. For example, it establishes a Joint CARIFORUM-UK Council responsible for the Agreement’s implementation and operation, as well as a CARIFORUM-UK Trade and Development Committee to assist the Joint Council. Two joint institutions (namely, the Special Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries and the Technical Sub-Committee on Development Cooperation), which had been established after the CARIFORUM-EU EPA’s signature, are directly included through dedicated articles in the CARIFORUM-UK EPA’s text.

What does it all mean?

As of the date of this article’s publication, the UK still remains an EU member. The original Brexit Day (March 29, 2019) has passed and the extension date of April 12, 2019 is fast approaching. In light of British MPs’ rejection of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement for the third time and no clear consensus among MPs on what they believe the future EU-UK relationship should be, the UK Government has asked for a further extension to June 30, 2019. As it stands, the threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit still remains a real possibility.

In light of the current Brexit chaos, CARIFORUM countries’ conclusion of a trade continuity agreement with the UK was a prudent move to preserve continuity and certainty for our businesses, consumers and investors. The CARIFORUM-UK EPA will only take effect once the UK leaves the EU and until such time, CARIFORUM-UK trade relations will remain covered by the CARIFORUM-EU EPA. Indeed, it could be regarded as an insurance policy of sorts – providing peace of mind and only used if and when needed.

The text of the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement may be found  online here, while the Parliamentary Report which provides a good synopsis may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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Text of UK-CARIFORUM EPA Published

Alicia Nicholls

The text of the United Kingdom-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement (UK-CARIFORUM EPA) has finally been published online. Whether you are a trade policy nerd or simply a business person concerned about the continuity of trade preferences between the UK-CARIFORUM countries post-Brexit, you would be forgiven for anxiously awaiting the release of the text.

Brexit Day (which was to have been March 29, 2019) has passed and the UK remains an EU member and no closer to any certainty regarding its future trading relationship with the EU-27 post-Brexit.  The UK government has requested a further extension to June 30, 2019 in hopes of getting British MPs to back the Draft Withdrawal Agreement which they rejected three times already.

Brexit chaos aside, on March 22, 2019, it was announced that the UK and CARIFORUM countries had signed a trade continuity agreement called the UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement which would preserve the preferences between the UK and CARIFORUM currently under the CARIFORUM-EU EPA. The CARIFORUM-EU EPA has been provisionally applied since 2008.

This means that CARIFORUM is one of the handful of trading partners with which the UK has managed to so far conclude trade continuity agreements. The UK is the most important trading partner in the EU for CARIFORUM countries and CARIFORUM leaders quickly recognised the need to ensure the continuity of trading conditions post-Brexit between the UK and CARIFORUM States.

The UK-CARIFORUM EPA was signed by the UK and nine CARIFORUM States (Barbados, Belize, The Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, The Republic of Guyana, Jamaica, St. Christopher & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines) on March 22, 2019. Trinidad & Tobago signed on April 1, 2019, while the remaining CARIFORUM States have indicated they will sign shortly.

As it currently stands, UK-CARIFORUM trading relations remain governed by the CARIFORUM-EU EPA, and the UK-CARIFORUM EPA is only expected to take effect once the CARIFORUM-EU EPA no longer applies to the UK. For it to enter into force, ratification will be needed by each of the parties. The Agreement’s utility stems from the fact that it ensures the continuity of preferential trading relations between the UK and CARIFORUM States once the UK leaves the EU, particularly in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

The UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement replicates the provisions of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA to the extent possible, including its development cooperation provisions. It also establishes a Joint CARIFORUM-UK Council with responsibility for implementing the Agreement, as well as a CARIFORUM-UK Trade and Development Committee. For further information, please feel free to read my commentary on it here: UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement: What does it all mean?

The text of the UK-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement may now be found  online here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

‘Brexit Plan B’: Key Points from PM May’s Speech

Alicia Nicholls

After suffering a historic and crushing rejection  of her Draft Withdrawal deal in the House of Commons and barely surviving a no confidence vote brought by the Leader of the Opposition last week, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Theresa May today outlined her ‘Brexit Plan B’ in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister May is in the unenviable position of having to formulate an alternative Brexit Plan which secures the support of MPs of diverging views on the way forward for Brexit, and which would be palatable to the EU. All the while the clock continues to tick on the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, now less than seventy days away. In an effort to break the Brexit impasse, Mrs. May has been holding talks with leaders of the major parties in Parliament.

Prime Minister May noted that in light of Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of the current withdrawal agreement, it was clear that the Government’s approach had to change. But has it?

Here are the key points from Prime Minister May’s address:

  1. While the Prime Minister noted that a ‘no deal’ Brexit should be avoided, she did not explicitly rule it out as an option. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated he would not participate in talks with the Prime Minister, unless the ‘no deal’ option is off the table.
  2. Prime Minister May, however, explicitly ruled out the revocation of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) as an option, saying doing this would go against the referendum result of June 23, 2016.
  3. Prime Minister May also ruled out seeking an extension of Article 50 of the TEU, doubting that the EU-27 would agree to any such extension.
  4. She again stated her opposition to a second referendum saying it would set a dangerous precedent for how referendums are handled in the UK. She noted that it would also require an extension of Article 50 and could damage social cohesion in the UK by undermining faith in their democracy. She also doubted there was a majority in the House for a second referendum.
  5. She has promised a more ‘flexible, open and inclusive’ approach in how her Government engages Parliament in the negotiation of the UK’s future partnership with the EU. The Government will consult the Parliament on its negotiating mandate for the next phase of negotiations.
  6. She also promised a more consultative approach, and greater engagement with the devolved administrations, elected representatives in Northern Ireland and regional representatives in England, businesses, civil society and trade unions.
  7. She emphasized that the UK’s exit from the EU should not erode the UK’s protection for environment standards or workers rights and that they would support the proposed amendment to the meaningful vote that Parliament should be able to consider any changes in these areas made by the EU.
  8.  In perhaps the only major policy change of note, Prime Minister May noted that her Government will scrap the £65 fee for EU nationals resident in the UK to register to remain in the UK following Brexit. Those who apply in the pilot phase will have their fees reimbursed. She recommitted to EU nationals resident in the UK continuing to access benefits in the UK both in a deal and no deal scenario.
  9. With regard to the controversial Irish backstop option in the current Withdrawal Agreement, Prime Minister May vaguely noted that her Government will work to identify how they could ensure that they respect the terms of the Belfast Agreement and their commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in such a way that commands the support of the parliament and the EU.

In substance, there was little difference between Prime Minister May’s Plan A and the Plan B outlined. Members of Parliament will vote on the Plan B on January 29, 2019, which would pretty much be the same as the Plan A which they so soundly rejected by 230 votes last week.

The next phase will be continued discussions between Mrs. May and MPs and other stakeholders, which would (or should) inform Mrs. May’s re-engagement with the EU on the way forward.  The uncertainty continues, but it appears that a ‘no deal Brexit’ is increasingly more likely. This also comes against the backdrop of the International Monetary Fund’s downward revision of its global growth forecast, warning today (and not for the first time) that a ‘no deal Brexit’ was a major risk for the global economy.

The text of Prime Minister May’s speech may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Overwhelmingly Rejected by British MPs

Alicia Nicholls

With just over seventy days to go before the United Kingdom’s (UK) impending withdrawal from the European Union (EU) on March 29, 2019, British Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly against the current Draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. With only 202 MPs voting in favour and 432 voting against the deal, the 230 margin of defeat represents the worst legislative defeat inflicted on a British Government in modern history.

The vote, termed the ‘meaningful vote’, was highly anticipated. Originally scheduled for last December, Prime Minister May had postponed the vote at the last minute in the face of overwhelming opposition to the current deal, particularly the fall-back provisions on the Northern Ireland/Ireland Border – the so-called ‘backstop’. In the interim, Mrs. May unsuccessfully sought to obtain greater concessions from the EU in order to assuage skeptics, including those in her own party. However, the EU had been adamant that the  500-page Draft Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation.

Indeed, the reaction by the EU to the outcome has been swift. In a statement released immediately thereafter, President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, lamented that “the risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote.” President Juncker further reiterated that “the Withdrawal Agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

In her remarks after the outcome, Mrs. May lamented that the vote gave no indication of what the Parliament does support. She promised to continue her pursuit of Brexit as instructed by the British people in their referendum result of 2016. She has again ruled out a second referendum. However, her future appears to be in the balance. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for a general election, has immediately tabled a motion of no confidence which will be debated tomorrow. In December, Mrs. May survived a no confidence motion within her own party.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

‘No Deal’ Brexit Scenario Increasingly Likely: What does this mean for CARIFORUM-UK Trade?

Alicia Nicholls

The countdown is on. With 100 days to go before the United Kingdom’s (UK) scheduled withdrawal from the European Union (EU), and the ratification of the Draft Withdrawal Agreement less likely, both sides have this week announced contingency plans for a ‘No-Deal Brexit’. What do these recent developments mean for CARIFORUM-UK trade, not just at the policy level, but at the firm level as well?

It has been a busy week in Brexit news. After delaying the House of Commons vote on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement which was scheduled for December 11th, UK Prime Minister Theresa May this week announced that the promised vote will be held the week of January 14, 2019. In the interim, Mrs. May will be seeking to obtain additional legal assurances from the EU-27 that the deal’s ‘backstop’ provision would not keep the UK in a customs union with the EU indefinitely.

UK and EU Brexit Contingency Plans Underway

However, in recognition of an increasingly likely ‘no deal’ scenario, the May Government also announced plans to, inter alia, put 3,500 troops on standby, allocate monies from a contingency fund to key government departments, and outlined a post-Brexit immigration plan.

The EU, for its part, has sought to safeguard the interests of its own EU-27 citizens and businesses by implementing a contingency plan comprising 14 legislative measures and targeting key Brexit-vulnerable sectors. Specifically on trade, the EU noted, inter alia, that “all relevant EU legislation on the importation and exportation of goods will apply to goods moving between the EU and the UK”. In a clear signal to the May Government, the EU was quick to point out that its contingency plan is meant to safeguard EU citizens foremost, that the measures do not replicate the benefits of EU membership, and that these will not mitigate all the risks of a ‘no deal Brexit’.

Why is a ‘no deal’ more likely now?

In an article I recently co-authored with Dr. Jan Yves Remy last week, we highlighted at least four scenarios for future UK-EU relations and analysed what each scenario may mean in turn for CARIFORUM-UK relations. Brexit represents the most epochal and seismic shift in UK trade and political policy in recent history. Brexit developments remain quite fluid, but recent developments evince the increasing likelihood of the ‘no deal’ scenario.

EU leaders have repeatedly ruled out a return to the negotiating table. A renegotiated withdrawal agreement, therefore, now appears highly unlikely. Despite calls for a second referendum, including from former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, this option has been fervently dismissed by the May Administration, which remains committed to her slogan of ‘Brexit means Brexit’, although she had been part of the ‘remain’ camp before the referendum.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has tabled a no confidence motion against Prime Minister May which, if successful, could change the current Brexit trajectory. However, despite her current unpopularity, there is no guarantee Mrs. May would be defeated or that her successor would abandon the Brexit plans. As alluring as it sounds, a ‘No Brexit at all’, scenario, therefore, at this stage still appears unlikely.

Possible Implications of ‘no deal’ for CARIFORUM-UK trade

Due to former colonial ties, the UK is currently most CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic) countries’ main trading partner within the EU and is also one of the main source markets for tourist arrivals and foreign direct investment to CARIFORUM countries. Given these historic and economic ties, CARIFORUM and the UK are currently in the advance stages of negotiating a roll-over of the concessions under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement which currently define CARIFORUM-UK trading relations until the UK leaves the EU. While details about the roll-over negotiations have been sparse, this agreement has reportedly taken into account the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. It is in the ‘no deal’ scenario that this roll-over arrangement has its most utility as it at least assures CARIFORUM traders of continued preferential market access to the UK if the latter leaves the EU without a transition deal in place.

However, while the EPA ‘roll-over’ preserves the market access status quo, it does not mitigate all the risks of a ‘no deal Brexit’. Without a transition agreement in place, UK goods (and imported goods entering through UK ports of entry) will immediately after March 29, 2019 no longer have free circulation within the EU single market and will revert to World Trade Organisation Most Favoured Nation (MFN) levels – that is, they will be subject to EU import duties and non-preferential rules of origin. This, therefore, takes away the incentive for CARIFORUM firms which, due to a shared language and customs, would have used the UK as a ‘springboard’ for entering the wider EU market by establishing a commercial presence in the UK.

Moreover, because many CARIFORUM countries’ air and sea links to continental Europe are still mainly through the UK, CARIFORUM firms will have to consider what impact these new ‘no deal’ arrangements (such as reimposed customs duties and customs checks) may have on their trade with both UK and EU partners and on their supply chains. New arrangements for aviation and haulage between the EU and UK will also add delays and increased freighting costs. These higher costs will have to be borne in mind in business planning, pricing and other decisions.

One of the biggest threats of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the volatility of sterling which has seen large drops in value whenever unfavourable news hits the market. If not already done, currency risks will have to be taken into account by CARIFORUM firms when negotiating commercial terms with UK trading partners and in their own risk assessments.

With regard to tourism, the reduced spending power of UK visitors to the region, or any downturn in the UK economy due to fall-out from a ‘no deal’ Brexit’, would adversely impact those CARIFORUM countries where UK tourists account for a sizable market share or where UK purchasers account for sizable real estate purchases. Changes in UK-EU aviation arrangements may also make the cost of travel to the region more expensive for those continental European travellers which have to transit through the UK to reach the Caribbean (those which do not have the benefit of direct flights). As such, it would be beneficial for CARIFORUM countries to expand their direct air and sea links with continental Europe.

In spite of the above, it is not all doom and gloom. There is the opportunity for CARIFORUM to redefine CARIFORUM-UK trading relations by going beyond the mere EPA roll-over and negotiating a new free trade agreement in the future with the new ‘Global Britain’ the May Administration seeks to advocate. It also gives CARIFORUM countries an additional nudge to expand their trading relations with the EU-27 themselves by making better use of the EPA, which is currently underutilised. This is also an opportune time as CARIFORUM, as part of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping, is in the process of renegotiating a post-Cotonou arrangement with the EU.

The takeaway is that the uncertainty continues! With all the news about Brexit, it is not surprising that some firms or persons may experience ‘Brexit fatigue’. It is, however, incumbent on regional firms which currently do business with, or are seeking to conduct business with those in the UK to keep abreast of these developments and to make the necessary contingency plans to ensure minimal disruption to their trading.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Domestic Squabbles and International Blunders: Will There Be a No-Deal Brexit Scenario?

By Renaldo Weekes, Guest Contributor 

Renaldo Weekes ping pong

Renaldo D. Weekes

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Prime Minister, Theresa May, has had her hands full ever since she took the job and began leading the Brexit negotiations. She has had to suffer through several resignations as various Secretaries and Ministers opposed her Brexit deal. More recently, she has been ensued in a serious battle with the House of Commons and, more specifically, Members of Parliament (MPs) from her own party. With the high tension squabbles that surround the Brexit deal in the UK, European Union (EU) leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain confidence in May and are not willing to change any part of the current deal, much to the Prime Minister’s detriment.

No Confidence Vote

Tensions surrounding the Brexit have culminated when Prime Minister May decided to delay Monday’s Brexit vote until January. Feeling as though they have tolerated enough, her own MPs launched a no-confidence vote against her. She survived that vote and we now continue on the same path as before. Theresa May’s options remain the same, those being: succeeding with her current deal or an amended deal, holding a second referendum, unilaterally reversing Brexit, a no-deal Brexit and a relatively new option of restarting the process that inadvertently arose out of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on Monday, December 10. The no-confidence vote was merely a bump in the road for the most part and Tory MPs cannot challenge her leadership for at least another year.

Funnily enough, if the rebellious MPs won the vote, things would not have been any better. The same options would be open to the new PM and his or her team. The likelihood of each option happening would change, however, and it seems a no-deal Brexit would be even more likely. May’s current deal would be scrapped as MPs have made it clear that they do not like the deal in its current form. Holding a second referendum or reversing Brexit are not likely to happen because the MPs who challenged May are not willing to even open the possibility of slowing down Brexit. There seems to be no intent to revoke their article 50 notification because doing this may be interpreted as retreating from the battle.

Appeasing the Tories

On Thursday, fresh off the heels of her victory against the no-confidence vote, Theresa May headed to Brussels to squeeze more concessions out of the EU. Her elation from winning the vote did not last long as the EU made it clear that it will not be budging. The EU is not being stubborn for the sake of it, however. According to reports, EU leaders are not sure they can trust Prime Minister May anymore. Not because she is being underhanded but rather, she does not know what she is doing. She has offered what has been described as either vague or impossible changes that relate to the backstop on the Irish border.

One of her suggestions was to have a sunset clause on the backstop whether or not a deal is reached. This is rather dangerous because the point of the backstop is to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. If the backstop deal comes to an end with no replacement, the border they were trying to prevent will be realized. Some fear that this will resume conflicts that were put to a halt 20 years ago with the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The fact that Tories are willing to let this happen because they want to be completely severed from the EU shows their irresponsibility. They have not suggested ways to deal with the backstop, they simply want a Brexit and they want it now. How can May really appease persons who are not suggesting a fix to the main problem? Understandably, she would try to tweak a deal that, in its current state, will not pass the House of Commons but she and the Tories must face facts. If this squabble of theirs continues, there will be a no-deal scenario.

The Wishful Immovable Object and the Ostensibly Unstoppable Force

Prime Minister May has maintained her stubbornness throughout this entire ordeal until the crucial December 11 vote came and she postponed it until January. We finally saw the ostensibly immovable object shake under pressure. This continued on when the no-confidence vote hit and she essentially begged the EU to make more concessions but they rebuffed her. May is still standing, however, and continues to dismiss the idea of a second referendum as folly even though some of her Cabinet members are reportedly flirting with the idea.

Though the Prime Minister wants to maintain the image of being an immovable object, she has been clearly rattled. There is also the impending, ostensibly unstoppable force that is a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit is not as unstoppable as it may appear. Its status as ‘unstoppable’ depends on how immovable Theresa May wants to be. If May is willing to change her position and, at the very least, holds a second referendum, it is more probable that she prevents the UK’s disastrous crash out of the EU. If she revokes the Article 50 notification, she prevents Brexit almost immediately and can even restart the negotiation process to craft a better deal.

It is sad to see the state of affairs that the UK finds itself in because of the unrealistic and irresponsible demands of some Tory MPs and a Prime Minister who is trying to mollify these MPs but, at the same time, wants to remain unnecessarily obdurate in the face of legitimate concerns about where the country is headed as the March 2019 deadline approaches. Only time will tell if things will change, whether for better or worse.

Renaldo Weekes is a holder of a BSc. (Sociology and Law) who observes international affairs from his humble, small island home. He has keen interest in how countries try to maneuver across the international political and legal stage.

ECJ Brexit Ruling: What are the implications?

Renaldo Weekes ping pong

Renaldo Weekes, Guest Contributor 

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Monday, December 10th, 2018, that a European Union (EU) member state has the ability to unilaterally revoke its notification of intent to leave under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. This ruling comes at a time when anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit persons alike are showing great opposition to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Anti-Brexit persons, in particular, are feeling vindicated by this ruling because it allows them to double down on their stance and try to force Prime Minister May into submission.

However, the British Government stood its ground despite the ECJ’s ruling, with British Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, arguing that the British people voted to leave the EU in 2016 and it will not reverse that decision. The Government even argued that point in the ECJ case, saying it does not plan to reverse its decision so the question of whether the United Kingdom (UK) can unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notification was merely hypothetical and of no consequence.

May’s Brexit deal in more peril

Can the British Government continue to take its tough stance in light of the ECJ’s ruling and all the controversy that shrouds Brexit? Some may find it admirable that the Government is not willing to waver, even in the face of fierce opposition. At some point, however, it must face facts. Anti-Brexit lawmakers will be less likely to back down. As part of its judgement, the ECJ said that the UK’s decision to revoke their Article 50 notification reflects a sovereign decision. This has essentially put absolute power into the hands of UK Members of Parliament (MPs) to change course as they do not have to yield to the EU. There is no doubt that MPs will exercise that power. To anti-Brexit lawmakers, there are no more excuses that Prime Minister May can use to prevent a second referendum or prevent Brexit. In light of this, lawmakers are more likely to vote down on the deal; though there was no doubt that they would have done otherwise.

Responsibility and accountability

The ECJ ruling also puts ultimate accountability on the Prime Minister and her team. The European Commission and the Council argued in the court case that article 50 could not be interpreted as allowing a member state to unilaterally revoke its notification; the member state would need the EU’s permission to revoke the notification. If this turned out to be true, and the EU refused to allow the UK to change its decision, Government would have been able to argue that the EU is at fault for restricting the UK’s sovereignty. That, however, is not the case now. Should the government refuse to reverse Brexit or, at the very least hold a second referendum, there is no other institution that holds responsibility for any ensuing consequences that should come from what is likely to be a hard or even no deal Brexit.

Abuse of the process

Another possible impact of the ECJ ruling was actually cited by the European Commission and the Council during their argument to the court. They noted that if member states can unilaterally revoke their notification to leave, they may abuse that process in order to retrigger the 2 year negotiation period should the original negotiations not go their way. On the face of it, this argument may not hold much weight as there is already a process through which a member state can request an extension of the negotiating period. However, should the member state not agree to the extension period proposed by the council, it may still seek to retrigger the mandated 2 year negotiating process which forces the council into a position where it must agree to the member state’s desired negotiation period. The member state may also opt to not apply for an extension and immediately retrigger the process.

The effects that the ECJ’s ruling may or may not have on the UK and other member states notwithstanding, we must still wait to see if the British government will budge in any way as the March 2019 deadline approaches against the backdrop of MPs threatening to upend the deal and a shaky Government trying desperately to maintain its power.

Renaldo Weekes is a holder of a BSc. (Sociology and Law) who observes international affairs from his humble, small island home. He has keen interest in how countries try to maneuver across the international political and legal stage.

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