What's at stake if a Brexit deal falls through

Brexit deal is 95% settled, UK’s May to tell Parliament

According to her prepared remarks, May will say “95 per cent of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled,” with significant progress in “the last three weeks alone.”

An initial opponent of Brexit, May has long struggled to reach a compromise with European leaders, while staving off criticism from hard-line anti-EU lawmakers within her own Conservative Party and its allies in Parliament, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The biggest outstanding problem remains the issue of how to avoid the need to construct new infrastructure along the Irish border. The removal of border posts was crucial to the Good Friday Agreement that ended years of deadly sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

European leaders want a “backstop” agreement, whereby in the absence of other solutions, Northern Ireland would remain aligned with European regulations on goods and services, including customs arrangements, after Britain leaves the bloc. May opposes this because, she argues, it amounts to splitting the UK into different customs zones, which would be politically unacceptable.

“The commitment to avoiding a hard border is one that this House emphatically endorsed and enshrined in law in the Withdrawal Act earlier this year,” May will say on Monday.

“As I set out last week, the original backstop proposal from the EU was one we could not accept, as it would mean creating a customs border down the Irish Sea and breaking up the integrity of the UK.”

It is unclear from May’s remarks how much progress has been made in this area since she last spoke with European leaders, but if this is the 5% of the deal which remains to be settled, then it may prove an outsized percentage.

Last week, the EU dropped plans for a November summit on Brexit because of a lack of progress in negotiations and began preparations for a disastrous “no-deal” scenario when the clock runs out in March 2019.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Thursday that the bloc was ready to extend the length of the transition period designed to smooth the UK’s exit from the 28-nation bloc next year, though he was more optimistic than previous about an imminent deal.

The original plan is for a 21-month period starting March 30, 2019, as soon as the UK has left.

“If the UK decided an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal, I am sure the leaders would be ready to consider it positively,” Tusk said.

Thousands marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square in what is said to be the largest public protest against Brexit so far on October 20, 2018.

Criticism from all sides

Around half a million people took to the streets of London on Saturday, according to organizers of the People’s Vote March for the Future. CNN could not independently verify the number of marchers.

“This government is leading us towards either a bad Brexit deal or, even worse, no deal at all. These options are a million miles away from what was promised. The government doesn’t have a mandate to gamble with our future,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at a rally in Trafalgar Square.

Organizers handed out postcards for people to write to their local lawmakers demanding a final say on the Brexit deal, rather than relying on Parliament to approve it.

May also came in for criticism from within her own party, where a small but vocal pro-EU movement has been building amid claims the Prime Minister has been pushed to the right in negotiations by hard Brexiteers.

Speaking to The House magazine, Conservative MP Johnny Mercer said he would not have stood to represent the party as it is today and described May’s government as a “sh*t show.”

Downing Street told CNN it would not be commenting on Mercer’s interview.

On the pro Brexit side, former minister David Davis criticized May in a column in the right-wing, anti-Europe newspaper the Daily Mail, saying that “even the most charitable verdict on last week’s Brexit talks in Brussels can hardly describe them as a success.”

“Despite the flawed strategy to date, it is still possible to reset our path towards a proper free trade agreement. But we are running out of time, and we should not fear a ‘no deal’ outcome,” Davis said.

May has faced repeated speculation over whether she will last as leader due to disputes within her party over Brexit, with both Davis and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson mooted as successors. Speaking Sunday, May’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab conceded that backbenchers were having “jitters,” but added “now is the time to play for the team.”

CNN’s Erin McLaughlin and James Frater contributed reporting.

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