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Posted on December 8, 2017

The Prime Minister knew she didn’t have time on her side. She needed to get the Northern Ireland border nailed down, an agreement on EU citizens’ rights, and the terms of the divorce budget set before the UK could start stitching together a relationship post-Brexit with the EU. It appears, with much compromise on both sides, and with the buffer of a two-year transitional agreement, she has done so. At the 11th hour.

So what happened?

The devil remains in the details, but we do know the EU have now agreed that enough progress has been made, particularly on the border issue to move onto the next stage, the future economic and trade relationship with the EU. An agreement has been reached in principle on the amount the UK will have to pay the EU to exit as part of the divorce bill, on how EU and UK citizens rights will be protected with some form over oversight by the European Court of Justice, and on avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. May knew the DUP couldn’t continue to hold the UK government to ransom and getting the DUP to sign up along with the Irish Government was not what was expected.

There has been general support that the PM has pulled a blinder. The tone, for now, including from the EU is much more positive and Juncker personally applauded May for getting this far. With no Northern Ireland hard border, UK business was delighted and the UK saw the pound sterling surging. An open border with Northern Ireland will mean that there has been compromise in alignment to the EU customs union and the single market. Failure to achieve this would have been seen by many as too far a red line to have crossed.

May’s Cabinet is behind her. Even her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has congratulated her as he will no doubt have been convinced that it is in his best interests to back the deal. However, there are likely to be those in Parliament and beyond who will not find her compromises acceptable.

And now?

So far, the PM has appeared to have kept the Brexiters in her party both in line and supportive. If they didn’t support her, she would almost certainly have reminded them of the alternative, a Jeremy Corbyn-led government, as she would have likely fallen in the coming days. Compromise is always easier against a loss of power and a potential Corbyn government.

While the full details are still emerging and there are likely to be some serious concerns from the hard Brexiters on what the PM has given up, both sides of these negotiations will be pleased that the breakthrough will have eased the tone as they both head for the really tough negotiations on the economic relationship between the UK and the EU. They have just over 15 months to pull it all together.

A week is a long time in politics.

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