Theresa May presented her Brexit deal to her cabinet on November 14, 2018 and to the House of Commons the next day. It consists of two documents, the “Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community” (585 pages) and the “Outline of the political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (8 pages). The documents were released to the public only after the conclusion of that cabinet meeting.
The Problematic Protocol
The Members of Parliament hardly had time overnight to read the Draft Agreement in its entirety. Instead, they rushed to read the “Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland” because they knew that this had been the most controversial element in the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The Protocol recalls in its preamble that “the Withdrawal Agreement… does not aim at establishing a permanent future relationship between the Union and the United Kingdom” while noting that both parties recognize the need to maintain the “soft border” that exists between Northern Ireland, as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the Irish Republic. Although it is hoped that that “permanent future relationship” will have been negotiated by the end of the “transition period” during which the United Kingdom completes its withdrawal from the EU, this may not happen. The aim of the Protocol, therefore, is to serve, if necessary, as a “backstop” arrangement to preserve the soft border even after the transition period while negotiations on the permanent future relationship are completed.