Can Brexit breakthrough really bring resolution?
The FT's deputy opinion editor Miranda Green and world news editor Anne-Sylvaine Chassany discuss whether the new deal can be mutually beneficial to Europe and the UK
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis
You can enable subtitles (captions) in the video player
After a tense build up, at last Britain and the EU have secured a Brexit deal. I'm joined by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, our world news editor, to discuss these dramatic developments and whether it might actually, finally lead to a resolution of the Brexit issue. Anne-Sylvaine, it's been a very dramatic morning hearing that this breakthrough was real or not just a mirage.
But do you think that the mood in the rest of Europe is just relief that at least, at least something has changed, or do you think they really think that they've secured a good mutually beneficial Brexit deal?
Yeah. There is a sentiment that there's a deal there that is actually not far from the withdrawal deal, the withdrawal agreement that Teresa May initially negotiated, but you know respecting the EU red lines, especially with regards to the island of Ireland, and the integrity of the single market. So, yes, there is hope that this deal can be... can allow an orderly exit of Great Britain, of the UK, out of the EU. And obviously, you know, this is only the start of long negotiations.
And that transition period will now be ensured, right? Which is extremely important for both sides to minimise disruption.
Absolutely. And so the big change is that, I mean, compared with the previous withdrawal agreement, is that Northern Ireland is now part of the EU customs with mechanism to keep it also part of the British customs. And so, you know, and also from a regulatory point of view, Northern Ireland would be aligned, especially on goods, with the EU. And EU laws will apply to Northern Ireland. So, in a way, the EU had red lines and they are respected from that point of view.
But then the rest of the UK, Great Britain without Northern Ireland, is very firmly out, right? In fact, this is quite a hard Brexit for the rest of the UK with Northern Ireland. Well almost partitioned off in terms of customs.
There is a border. There's a border. You know checks will be made... will be made at... between the Irish Sea.
So, yes. But that's, yeah. That's basically what the deal is about. And also I think down the line there might be some divergence in terms of regulatory mechanism or framework. And the question now will be Northern Ireland.
So here in the UK, of course, it's very politically fraught still.
And agreeing the deal between the UK government and Brussels and then the rest of the EU governments also need to come on board. Barnier assumes they will, correct?
You know, it's remarkable to see how the EU has conducted these negotiations. Very united front. Barnier has negotiated. He's going to present that deal tonight, but everybody's on board, Macron, Merkel, et cetera. So I think that's going to be a formality tonight.
So then the drama will move to the UK, where on Saturday there is this special sitting of the House of Commons. Hasn't happened since the early 80s during the Falklands war. Really very dramatic thing to do to call parliament to a sitting on Saturday. And then it would be a question of can Boris Johnson achieve what Theresa May was not able to do. Because, of course, she also agreed a deal with the EU. But then three times it failed dramatically and by a large margin in the House of Commons. So Boris Johnson has now got to try and play off these different sides, buy in some Labour votes, and keep his right wing onside.
And still, the DUP - the Democratic Unionist party - those 10 MPs who've been keeping the Tory party afloat since they lost their majority, they're not quite on board. I mean how much will Brussels also be worrying about the political drama in the UK? Or do they think that Boris Johnson is such a sort of different figure that he can pull it off politically?
That's probably what Boris Johnson has told them - that he would be able to bring these DUP MPs on board. And so that's really a question of... really a question for you is how unity... which extent Boris Johnson would be able to bring them on board? Can he bend them before Saturday? What do you think?
It's extraordinary. I mean he's got to... his right wing, the ERG - the European Research Group - some of them are now in his cabinet. So those people are now completely on board for his plan. They will clearly be recommending, and have done, to their colleagues on the right of the Tory party and also to the Democratic Unionists: come on, you've got to back this deal. But for the DUP this issue of having different conditions in Northern Ireland, it's a fundamental existential problem for them. Because the reason their party exists is to defend the union.
And so, you know, it will be an amazing trick if he pulls it off. The thing that, I think, will help him is one of his concessions in the negotiations. So he has agreed, in the political declaration - which is the kind of foreword to the withdrawal agreement - to keep in there promises on regulatory alignment. Which means lots of things, like workers' rights, environmental protections, et cetera. That could help him buy in a few crucial Labour party MPs, 19 of whom wrote to the EU last week asking for a deal which contained these elements. So I think there's going to be some very interesting sort of interplay between Number 10 and these individuals on the Labour party benches.
That's interesting. Well we'll see on Saturday if he can pull it off.
We will see on Saturday. But then we will move on, as you quite rightly said to years and years of further negotiation.
It's only the start of long, long, you know, discussions and debates.