May calls for national unity as EU signs deal

Moving on: May says she will fight with her “heart and soul” to pass the deal in Parliament.

Can Britain reconcile once Brexit is finally over? Yesterday, EU leaders approved a withdrawal deal with the UK. Theresa May promised the public “a new chapter in our national life.”

It has been 885 days since the UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum. At a summit in Brussels yesterday, European leaders signed off on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The mood in Brussels was mixed. “It’s a very sad day,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists at a press conference after the deal was agreed.

European Council President Donald Tusk was more upbeat: “One thing is certain — we’ll remain friends until the end of days and one day longer.”

Meanwhile, May said she was “full of optimism about the future of our country.” She outlined her case for the deal in a letter to the British public. She wrote that once the UK officially leaves on March 29 next year, “we will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country.”

However, there is a long way to go before March; first May must get the deal approved by MPs in Parliament, or risk crashing out with no deal.

Yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the withdrawal agreement as “the worst of all worlds” and said his party would not vote for it. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon called it a “bad deal”, while the DUP’s Arlene Foster said her party was “disappointed” in May. Even May’s own party is split between those who are urging MPs to back the prime minister, and those calling for her removal.

These divisions over Brexit are reflected right across the UK.

Polls find that voters are still evenly split between Leave and Remain supporters, with few having changed their minds since the referendum. Older people are still more likely to support leaving the EU, while those with university degrees are more likely to want to stay. Around 70% of Remain voters feel pessimistic about Britain’s future, compared with 35% of Leave voters.

With all that in mind, is May’s plea for “renewal and reconciliation” after Brexit possible?

Disunited Kingdom

No, say some. Most young people did not vote for Brexit, but they are being forced to live with the consequences. This is deeply unfair. Even Brexiteers are unhappy; former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has called it “the worst deal in history”. May is pushing through an unpopular policy without actually addressing the concerns that led to Brexit in the first place. That is a recipe for disaster.

It is time to move on, say others. There is one thing voters agree on: whether they want to leave or stay in the EU, around 55% of people find news of the Brexit negotiations “boring”. It is time to stop arguing about the details and start looking ahead to the UK’s future. When the squabbling dies down, we will find that we have more in common than we thought.

You Decide

  1. Should MPs approve May’s deal with the EU?
  2. Will the UK reconcile after Brexit, or remain divided?

Activities

  1. The year is 2029, 10 years after Brexit. Write an imaginary news article explaining how the UK has changed in the last decade.
  2. Find out more about what the withdrawal agreement contains — the links under Become An Expert will help you. Summarise the key points in a short report. Finish by writing a paragraph explaining whether you support or oppose the deal.

Some People Say...

“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate.”

Desmond Tutu

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
After more than a year of negotiations, yesterday the deal was approved in just 40 minutes. The BBC reports that only a few EU leaders spoke up during the meeting, mostly to say that it was a sad day, and none raised objections. The deal itself is almost 600 pages long, plus a 20-page outline about the future relationship.
What do we not know?
Whether MPs in the UK will approve the deal. Last year they forced the government to give them a “meaningful vote” on the deal in Parliament. Now that will happen during the next month, possibly around December 12. The Conservatives do not have a majority in Parliament, and opposition parties are planning to vote against the deal, which means it will be very difficult to pass. We do not know what will happen if it is rejected.

Word Watch

Withdrawal agreement
The deal includes details about the “transition period” between March 2019 and December 2020, when the UK will still need to follow EU rules. It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. It also includes backup plans (known as a “backstop”) for what will happen if the transition period ends without a trade deal. In that scenario, Northern Ireland would have different trading rules to Great Britain.
EU Commission
The branch of the European Union responsible for proposing EU legislation and upholding EU treaties.
European Council
The branch of the European Union responsible for the EU’s overall direction. It includes the heads of state of all EU members.
No deal
If this happens, there would be a chaotic period during which UK laws in key areas like immigration are unclear.
Changed their minds
According to the National Centre for Social Research, around 7% of Leave voters have changed their minds. However, this is balanced out by the 7% of Remain voters who say they would now vote to leave.
Around 70%
According to a July 2018 poll by YouGov.

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