In the early hours of this morning, the Prime Minister reached an agreement with the EU that ‘sufficient progress’ has been made on the three policy areas deemed crucial by the EU to be settled before discussions on any future relationship can take place. It is now being recommended that the talks move on to Phase 2 of the preparation for the UK’s departure from the EU.
It’s not actually a cast iron ‘deal’. There is the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. But the general principles are accepted by both sides, even if the detail has to be filled in when the final Withdrawal Agreement comes to be drawn up.
Firstly, there is agreement that the rights of three million EU citizens living in the UK, and of the one million UK citizens living in the EU are secured. Secondly, the common travel area within Ireland will be maintained, averting a hard border between Eire and Northern Ireland. And thirdly, there is agreement on the principles on how a ‘fair settlement’ or ‘divorce payment’ will be calculated. There is much detail behind these three headline statements.
I do think the Prime Minister has played a ‘blinder’. For 18 months she has been attacked from all sides, particularly by those who have never accepted the referendum result. And attacked by media commentators who have seemed ready to swallow any daft comment from The Prime Minister’s opponents. I’ve wondered at Theresa May’s astonishing resilience, as so many brickbats have been thrown her way. This morning she demonstrated her toughness and determination. Those who have sought to be as hurtful and rude as possible are shown up as rather lesser persons than she is.
There will be more difficult moments as we proceed to Phase two of the negotiations. There will be more posturing, more Internet based garbage, more opposition opportunism and discussions as the wire is approached. But today, I think we are going to secure a deal by 2019. The UK and her Prime Minister won’t win every argument, and may well have to compromise, but we will have a deal. And it will be a balance between what is good for the UK and what is good for the EU. And this morning’s agreement will, in my view, be a turning point in Theresa May’s fortunes.