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I have met some of the protagonists who worked on the withdrawal agreement document, and I believe that the efforts of the civil servants and negotiators who were involved on both sides of the Channel, who worked in earnest to find compromises on difficult subjects, should be acknowledged and commended, and not casually brushed aside because pragmatic diplomacy does not make for hyperbolic political headlines.
Trying to do something that no EU member has done in the 40 years since Britain joined the European Common Market has been not just difficult, but divisive. We cannot ignore the fact that the deal that was agreed with the EU27 has raised many political questions. There have been questions about the backstop: whether it was ever required and how temporary, or otherwise, it could be. There have been questions about the nature of Northern Ireland’s relationship with the EU and, of course, valid questions about what our future relationship with Europe might look like. The First Minister says that we should reject the deal, but the sad truth is that the deal was rejected by many people long before it was ever published or read.
For a moment, let us think about the purpose of a withdrawal agreement. Its purposes were fourfold. The first was to agree a financial settlement that both parties felt was a fair reflection of the UK’s existing obligations to the EU’s multi-annual financial framework. Another purpose was to secure the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, which Conservative members wanted and—I believe—every other member of the Parliament also wanted. Importantly, the agreement was to secure the rights of the 2 million Brits who live overseas in Europe—including the many Scots who have chosen to make Europe their home. It was also to ensure that no hard border would exist on the island of Ireland. The withdrawal agreement had to find a compromise that respected the Good Friday agreement but also acknowledged that there would be a land mass of which one part was an EU member state and the other was not.