LONDON – British voters will be able to change the final Brexit agreement with the European Union if they aren’t happy with what the British government delivers, a key Brexit supporter claimed Saturday.
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s comments came after Prime Minister Theresa May compromised on issues such as Britain’s financial obligation to the bloc, the Northern Ireland border and the jurisdiction of European courts in order to reach a preliminary agreement on divorce terms with the EU.
The EU had demanded an agreement on these issues before it would allow the talks to move on to all-important questions of trade and the future relationship between the two sides.
“The British people will be in control,” Gove wrote in Saturday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph. “By the time of the next election, EU law and any new treaty with the EU will cease to have primacy or direct effect in UK law. If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”
Britain’s next general election is scheduled for 2022, three years after the U.K. is set to leave the EU in 2019. Many analysts expect elections to be called earlier because May leads a minority government and is struggling to maintain control of a fractious cabinet.
While some commentators said Gove was simply stating the obvious — that voters can replace their leaders if they are unhappy with their performance — the article underscores the divisions within British society over what Brexit should look like.
Gove and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have advocated a harder form of Brexit in which Britain reasserts its control over regulations, ends the free movement of labour and stops paying into the EU budget. Other members of May’s Cabinet, including Treasury chief Phillip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd are believed to be pushing to keep some links with the EU to ensure that Britain retains tariff-free access to the EU’s large common market.
May’s cabinet to meet next week to discuss for the first time what the “end state” relationship between Britain and the EU will look like.
Britain is preparing to enter the next phase of talks after May reached on Friday announced a last-minute deal with the EU on the last sticking point in the divorce terms: the border between EU member Ireland and the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland.
Both sides accepted that the border must remain open once Britain leaves the bloc in 2019, although they haven’t yet agreed on the details of how this will work in practice. The issue was especially thorny because Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May’s government, refused to accept any deal that treated the province differently from the rest of the U.K. After a hectic night of telephone diplomacy, the DUP said it was satisfied with guarantees offered by the government.
The deal also gives assurances that British citizens in EU countries and EU nationals in the U.K. will be able to stay in place. In addition, the agreement outlines Britain’s financial obligations to the bloc, which could total some 50 billion euros ($59 billion), though the exact size of the bill wasn’t specified.