Theresa May's Brexit deal is a worrying 'step into the unknown', official report finds

Matt Cardy/ Getty ImagesBritish prime minister and Conservative party leader Theresa May.
  • Theresa May’s Brexit deal is highly risky and represents a failure on the UK’s part to make fundamental choices about its future, according to a highly damning report from a cross-party group of MPs.
  • Hillary Benn MP, chair of the committee, said May’s plan “would represent a huge step into the unknown.”
  • The report said the deeply unpopular backstop mechanism – designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – would likely need to kick in after the transition period, and would result in “immediate barriers” to UK-EU trade.
  • The stark warning comes just two days before Theresa May puts her much-criticised Brexit deal before parliament, with most MPs ready to vote against it.

LONDON – Theresa May has failed to spell out what Britain’s future will look like after Brexit, with her deal with the EU representing a “huge step into the unknown,” according to a damning verdict from a cross-party committee of MPs.

The Committee on Exiting the European Union’s report published on Sunday said the government had “failed to make fundamental choices about the UK’s future” and to assess the trade-offs that would result.

The stark warning comes just two days before Theresa May puts her much-criticised Brexit deal before parliament.

Her proposals have been roundly criticised from almost every wing of the House of Commons: Brexiteers believe the deal would bind the UK too closely to the EU, while Remainers have suggested it would leave the UK in a state of vassalage with little upside compared to EU membership.

The MPs found that:

  • After twenty months of negotiations, the government does not have detailed plans the nature of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
  • The political declaration – the document contained in Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal which sets out the UK and EU’s plans for their future relationship – is “neither detailed nor substantive,” and only sets out a series of options, meaning businesses would continue to face “significant uncertainty” about the terms of trade with the EU when the transition period ends.
  • There are no realistic, long-term proposals from the Government to keep an open border on the island of Ireland without leaving the EU single market and customs union – something Theresa May has repeatedly pledged to do.
  • The deeply unpopular backstop mechanism – an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland which would see the UK effectively remain within the EU’s customs territory – would therefore be the default relationship between the UK and EU when the transition period ended.
  • The backstop would result in “immediate barriers” to UK-EU trade in goods and services. By 2022, the latest point at which the transition period could end – the UK could face the threat of “significant economic disruption” which would reduce its leverage in the negotiations.

‘This could take years to sort out’

Labour MP Hillary Benn, chair of the Brexit committee, said the political declaration fell “far short” of the “detailed and substantive” document promised by former Brexit ministers and by the EU.

“It is because the Government has refused to face up to the hard choices confronting us that this deal would represent a huge step into the unknown,” he said.

“The Political Declaration falls far short of the ‘detailed and substantive’ document promised by former Secretaries of State and by the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier.

“It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or ten years’ time. And with these negotiations having not even having started yet, this could take years to sort out.”

Parliament appears highly likely to reject May’s proposed deal when it is put to a vote on Tuesday evening, with all opposition parties resolved to vote against it along with a large number of Tory MPs.

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