You may have never heard of Wallonia, a French-speaking region in Belgium with a population smaller than Yorkshire’s. But in 2016 – just after the Brexit referendum vote – Walloons (as the people of Wallonia are known) decided to block Ceta, one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive trade agreements, between the European Union and Canada.
If Theresa May gets her way, the UK will no longer be a member of the EU in a year’s time. However, even if she convinces parliament to vote for the withdrawal agreement before then, it will not be until after the UK has left the EU that ordinary EU member states – including Belgium’s Wallonia – get to vote on the new agreement.
This is because what will be agreed before March next year will only be the “heads of terms” of the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Negotiations will continue during the transition period – after we have left – and could still fail at the last stage. The dreaded “no deal” is still a very real possibility, even if an agreement is reached before March 2019.
The March deadline means that time is not on our side. The sheer volume of ground to be covered, as well as the political reality of disagreements not only within parliament but in May’s own cabinet, mean that only a fudged agreement could meet next year’s deadline.
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