Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Nov. 13, 2018 3 min read

So the ticklish moment awaits.

Consistent with @tombradby am told #Brexit Withdrawal Agreement texts were in London overnight, came back to Brussels this morning. That they are not finally closed, but the EU is "waiting for verdict" to decide next steps. /1

Seems like, per @Steven_Swinford
there are still one or two small areas to fix.

But we wait for Cabinet to be called to decide, essentially, if the 'review mechanism' for the Irish backstop really does create some kind of 'exit clause' for UK.

Cabinet set high bar on this../2

Interesting that @rte is quoting EU officials saying they don't expect a deal this week.

So we should discount possibility that Cabinet says 'no'. Although the self-imposed pressure for a Nov 24-25 EU Summit is strong. /3

There will also have to be, as I wrote y'day, a political calculation whether this deal can be sold to Parliament.

Does the @JoJohnsonUK resignation shift the dynamic? Or might his impact for 2nd referendum cause spook more ERG types into supporting the deal. /4

If May get's cabinet sign-off, then the text goes out to EU member states who want, per @JenniferMerode 7-10 days to scrutinise text. I hear same. @BrunoBrussels says might need less.

This could be the moment France cuts up rough - on level playing fields & fishing rights /5

As @nick_gutteridge points out in his exclusive this morning, fishing is a very emotive issue

 https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7724859/eu-rebels-british-fishing-backstop/ 

But this was from Friday, so perhaps now sorted? Or perhaps 'parked' by excluding fish products from All-UK customs union, pending further discussion. /6

There will be a lot of talk about the choice between "vassalage" and "carnage".

I predicted some time ago that No 10 would frame it this way, but this choice has since been turned against them by both wings of opposition represented by @JoJohnsonUK and @BorisJohnson /7

So I can see a switch coming.

No 10 will argue that the binary "vassalage v carnage" is a ) false b) used as an excuse to not make difficult decisions.

So @JoJohnsonUK plays that card, because he basically wants to 'remain' and @BorisJohnson because he wants 'clean' #Brexit /8

Both reach this point from opposite ends of the #Brexit telescope, because both are essentially chasing 'non-choices'.

One question that will need answering - and it is difficult to quantify - is just how much 'vassalage' this deal will actually entail? /9

If the backstop kicks in - which seems highly likely - how much liberty will the UK have.

Proponents will say it has 'taken back control' on Free Movement, on a chunk of budget payments, on large parts of the economy, leaving door open to deals on services, procurement etc /10

Opponents will argue that if the backstop remains 'unless and until' a deal replaces it, that's for the foreseeable future.

And if UK wants to minimise both GB-NI gap, and GB-EU frictions it will have to remain highly aligned with Single Market rules. /11

They will argue that the French and Germans will use that situation to screw the UK over, so one key question will be to what extent is the UK being forced to remain aligned?

All of which points back to why this 'review mechanism', and what it says, is so crucial. /12

Because even Boris and Jo Johnson are exaggerating - and to a degree they clearly are - it is still hard to argue that the backstop life is much more than life support. /13

Because just like 'take back control' was a wickedly intoxicating slogan, so is the argument that Mrs May has "handcuffed us to Europe and then handed Brussels the key" /14

So this is a highly ticklish moment for May.

Get the messaging wrong and, like Cameron's EU renegotiation deal, the entire thing will land in London dead on arrival, despite the triumphant work of the technical negotiations.

Get it right... /15

And the whole thing takes on a dreary inevitability, so we can all go home for Christmas.

The ERG decides that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush' & everyone else votes for order over chaos.

And the deal passes with anti-climatic ease.

We'll see... 16/ENDS


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