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In this week’s News brief we discuss the recent development in regards to Brexit… will there be a breakthrough in the negotiations?

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Brexit Breakthrough

This week the news broke that a possible deal has been reached regarding the “divorce bill” that the United Kingdom is supposed to pay. It turns out that the UK will pay more than 50 billion euro to settle its outstanding obligations towards the European Union. In the UK reactions were mixed. Leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage deemed this amount “not worth it” and argued the UK should just leave. On the main, however, May received a lot of backing. Even foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who previously said the EU should “go whistle” if it wanted to see money, now stated the UK should honour its obligations, on the condition that a trade deal will be made.

Global markets responded positively to this news, as the exchange rate of the pound rose to the highest level in months. Nevertheless, one could wonder whether optimism is justified.
Together with citizen rights and the Irish border question, the divorce bill forms part of the first round of the negotiations. Only if an agreement on all three of these questions is reached within the next two weeks, talks about the future trade deal can start. As one could have expected, it now turns out the Irish Border question is the main obstacle rather than the divorce bill.

From the start of the negotiations Ireland has firmly argued there cannot be a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the border has been invisible and many want it to stay this way, because they are afraid the resurrection of the border will disturb the peace process and cause new unrest. The UK government also argued it does not want a hard border, but this seems to contradict their other wishes, namely to exit the customs union and the single market. A possible solution would be to grant Northern Ireland a special status, which could ensure that it remains part of the EU trading bloc. A border could then be erected between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Effectively, however, this would damage the territorial integrity of the UK. Both the UK government and May’s Northern Irish coalition party DUP have argued against this solution. Instead they have proposed a “technological border” that does not require any physical obstacles. Nobody, however, seems to believe an invisible border is a viable solution. It is clear that the Irish question has been hugely underestimated.

Europe’s Week in Links


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