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Making the Most of the Brexit Deal

A chaotic Brexit, in which key questions about the relationship between the UK and the EU are left unanswered, may be avoided, but severe political and economic harm could still await both sides. What, then, accounts for the evident lack of urgency in taking the necessary steps to avoid such a scenario?

PARIS – On December 8, the United Kingdom and the European Union’s 27 members settled on some key aspects of the Brexit divorce agreement, opening the way for the decision, on December 15, to open a new chapter in negotiations, focused on addressing the future EU-UK relationship and transitional arrangements. This is good news, not least because it averts the worst-case scenario: a hard Brexit. But what lies ahead is much more challenging.

It seemed for some time that Europe would sleepwalk into hard Brexit. With the UK’s ruling Conservative Party deeply divided, and the EU seemingly unwilling to act strategically, the likelihood of a no-deal cliff-edge scenario appeared high.

Yet, in the end, the UK made critical concessions that allowed the negotiations to move forward. It agreed to pay much more to its EU partners than it had initially announced. And it committed to avoid the establishment of a hard border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU), even as Northern Ireland retains full access to the British market.