, 25 tweets, 12 min read Read on Twitter
Ahead of @theresa_may’s latest visit to Brussels, where are we with #Brexit?!

A not-so-short thread which I hope simplifies a seemingly never-ending process but one which could have an abrupt end in less than 40 days. /1
Some context first: The key problem is the backstop - the Irish Protocol to us its proper name

It’s a section of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) - a 585-page legal text which, together with a shorter Political Declaration (PD), forms the divorce treaty between UK & the EU. /2
The two texts - the WA & the PD - were the consequence of nearly two years of negotiations.

They were finalised + agreed by both the UK government (@10DowningStreet) and the EU (@EU_Commission) late last year. /3

(Skip to tweet 10 in the thread if you know this background!)
The backstop is an insurance policy.

It’s a carefully worded section of the WA designed to guarantee that no hard border would be forced on the island of Ireland if no future trade deal, struck by the UK & EU, itself precluded the need for a border. /4
The problem is that to function as it’s designed to (as an insurance policy) it required the UK to commit to remaining in a customs union with EU + N.Ireland aligning on regulation too. /5
Although @10DowningStreet accepted this in Dec (indeed, UK proposed backstop in its existing form), UK’s Attorney General said it theoretically locked UK to EU if the backstop kicked in.

‘No end date or unilateral exit clause’, he said in advice Parliament demanded it see. /6
With this legal advice in hand, MPs in Westminster protested.

So @10DowningStreet tried to get changes at the Dec EU summit. They got only warm words of EU reassurance that it would be temporary.

Predictably, then, in the meaningful vote on 15 Jan, the deal was voted down. /7
Ever since, through Commons amendments, the UK has been trying to establish what a majority of MPs *could actually* vote for.

The consensus fell on the ‘Brady Amendment’ which said that (still unspecified) ‘alternative arrangements’ should replace the need for a backstop /8
Brussels effectively said ‘tell us what those alternative arrangements are & we’ll listen (but backstop still needed).’

But despite @10DowningStreet convening the “Alternative Arrangements Working Group” (AAWG), the EU side still claims, with good reason, to be none the wiser /9
So - enough background - fast-forward to this week. Where are we from a Brussels perspective?

The crux now is this: UK needs to find a way for Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, to *change* his legal interpretation of what backstop actually means.

How can he do that? / 10
There are now four separate departments directly interlocking with EU side in the #Brexit process:
1. @10DowningStreet (@theresa_may)
2. @DExEUgov (@SteveBarclay)
3. @cabinetofficeuk (@DLidington)
4. @attorneygeneral (@Geoffrey_Cox)

Behind them are civil servants + lawyers /11
Together, this multi-pronged (last-ditch?) effort is designed to find ‘legally binding changes’ around the backstop so @Geoffrey_Cox can declare it no longer never-ending.

If you ask @10DowningStreet, they say that requires reopening of WA. Other UK sources say it needn’t /12
The EU maintains that while it can offer endless reassurances that they consider the backstop to be temporary, they can’t *legally guarantee* its temporary nature b/c they can’t be sure now that a free trade deal (which itself avoids an Irish border) can be signed in future /13
There are two aspects to the EU’s immovable position:
1. Solidarity with Ireland in maintaining the principles of the Good Friday peace agreement (no border)
2. Maintaining integrity of their Single Market
The first of these seeks to avoid a border, the second requires one. /14
So the only way out of that conundrum is either a rich EU/UK free trade agreement (FTA) down the line (after a transition period)

or if no FTA

The insurance backstop in which the UK remains in a customs union thus aligning with the EU and avoiding a hard external border. /15
So the EU says it can’t tinker with the backstop.

But the UK says it needs a legally binding change which either:

1. Provides an end date to the backstop
2. Provides unilateral exit mechanisms to the backstop

Once again, the EU says ‘no’ /16
On the face of it, the #Brexit standoff seems irreconcilable.

From chats here with both sides, my clear sense *at the moment* is that they‘re wide apart at least in terms of how they are presenting (or spinning?) to us their assessment of progress. /17
Brexit Secretary @SteveBarclay & Attorney General @Geoffrey_Cox (+ UK government lawyers) are in & out of Brussels this week meeting @MichelBarnier & @EU_Commission lawyers.

The plan is for UK to present a new legal text (or maybe a few text options) as solutions. /18
It’s not clear whether this legal text (or texts), if they do materialise, are designed to stand alongside the Withdrawal Agreement (possible for EU as long as they don’t contradict the WA) or be inserted into it (impossible says the EU). /19
But broadly the UK side is heartened that @MichelBarnier & @EU_Commission is, as they see it, engaging in the process and that UK lawyers will find counterparts in Brussels willing to agree to the changes thus allowing @Geoffrey_Cox to declare the backstop no longer a prob /20
(It’s worth remembering that those on UK side who did the actual negotiations, from which the backstop emerged, believe an inaccurate ‘mythology’ has grown around the backstop.
It’s not bad, they say; there are mechanisms to end it, and EU ‘good faith’ should be respected) /21
With the new revised legal interpretation from @Geoffrey_Cox, @10DowningStreet would table a new meaningful vote to Parliament next week which would see the deal pass.

Yet top source at heart of EU tell me this scenario “sounds very optimistic to me”. /22
As I write, its now looking likely that @SteveBarclay & @Geoffrey_Cox will come back to Brussels after @theresa_may’s trip tonight to see @JunckerEU.
The coming days will be (as we have said *so many times*) key. /23
There is a summit of EU leaders (with Arab counterparts) in Sharm el Sheikh this Sunday & Monday. @EmmanuelMacron not going but most other key leaders will be there.
@theresa_may is yet to confirm attendance but she’s likely to go. /24
While there’s a desire not to talk #Brexit in Egypt, it will a key opportunity for Mrs May to talk face-to-face with leaders about whatever emerges over the next 3 days in Brussels. /25
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