The Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement: Explained

In late November of 2018, then-UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the completion of a withdrawal agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This agreement, often referred to as the “Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement,” aimed to establish a framework for the UK`s exit from the EU, setting out key provisions on issues such as citizen rights, the Northern Ireland border, and the financial settlement.

While the agreement ultimately did not gain the necessary support in the UK Parliament to move forward, it remains a significant part of the Brexit process and is worth understanding for anyone interested in the ongoing negotiations between the UK and the EU.

So, what did the Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement include?

Citizen Rights

One of the key issues addressed in the agreement was the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU. The agreement aimed to provide certainty and protection for the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK and over one million UK citizens living in the EU.

Under the agreement, EU citizens living in the UK (and their family members) would be able to apply for “settled status,” allowing them to continue living and working in the UK after Brexit. UK citizens living in the EU would have similar rights, though individual EU member states would have some discretion in how they implement these protections.

Northern Ireland

Another contentious issue addressed in the agreement was the Northern Ireland border. The UK and EU had agreed on the need to avoid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state) to protect the peace process established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement proposed a “backstop” arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a future trade deal was agreed upon. This was intended to prevent the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which could otherwise have serious political and economic consequences.

Financial Settlement

Finally, the agreement established a financial settlement between the UK and EU. This included the UK`s financial obligations to the EU, which would continue after Brexit, as well as arrangements for a transition period during which the UK would continue to pay into the EU budget and follow existing EU rules while negotiating a future relationship.

Why did the agreement fail to gain support?

Despite the significant progress made with the Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement, it ultimately failed to gain the necessary support in the UK Parliament. A number of factors contributed to this, including concerns about the Northern Ireland backstop, fears about the UK remaining too closely tied to EU rules, and opposition from both pro-Brexit and pro-Remain MPs.

As a result, the UK faced a series of delays and extensions to the Brexit process, eventually leading to a general election in December 2019 that saw Boris Johnson become Prime Minister and later renegotiate a new withdrawal agreement, which was ultimately ratified by the UK Parliament and the EU.

Understanding the Theresa May Withdrawal Agreement can provide valuable context for the ongoing Brexit process and the challenges faced by both the UK and EU in negotiating a future relationship. While the agreement ultimately didn`t succeed, it remains an important part of the Brexit story and the efforts to resolve a complex set of issues.