Radio Sputnik has discussed the vote with David Collins, professor of international economic law at City, University of London and author of Negotiating Brexit: The Legal Basis for EU and Global Trade.
Sputnik: Professor, in your view, how likely is that changes to the Brexit final will be made before the vote?
David Collins: I think at this point it is very unlikely. I think it would be almost impossible now that we will see any meaningful changes. There might be something cosmetic but it will be meaningless.
Sputnik: One of the main concerns over this agreement is that the Irish backstop may leave the United Kingdom tied to the European Union indefinitely. What can be done by the prime minister to resolve this concern?
David Collins: Well, the only way I think that could feasibly have been done to resolve this at this late stage would have been to get some kind of a definitive end date for that arrangement. If there had been a clear date on which that arrangement was going to end, ideally with some indication of what would replace it and by that I mean presumably a free trade agreement, a normal free trade agreement, then I think we could have achieved a compromise and it probably would have passed through Parliament. So, really all it was ultimately was a question of timing but of course, the EU is so intransigent that they wouldn't even give us that, so it never happened.
David Collins: Well, I mean I guess you could call it a compromise inasmuch as it envisioned a long, reasonably long transition period during which time we would stay in the EU and then it would end with some kind of a vague future partnership that was never properly articulated. And I guess in that sense, it was envisaging that the full Brexit that was chosen during the referendum but it also had this very soft Brexit-oriented transition period.
But it was a very, very weak deal because the conclusion with the future partnership was never properly specified as I said earlier there was no end date. And of course, the other big problem was that the transition period left the UK in a position where it was bound by all of the EU regulations but no longer had any role whatsoever in creating them.
So, the UK was losing its seat in the EU Parliament and it was also losing its judge on the European Court of Justice. And that situation was really unacceptable.
Sputnik: Professor, what do you make of Mr Hunt's statement? He warned of dangerous attempts to impede the Brexit process. Is it possible that the United Kingdom will remain in the bloc?
David Collins: I completely agree with him. I think it would be disastrous. Whatever you might say about the EU in trade and globalisation, to disregard the will of the people, you are playing with fire: no democratic country in the world can do this. It doesn't matter how much as an MP or as a remainer, you don't like Brexit, you are upset, and you don't like the direction it is taking the country, whatever…if you are a Europhile, you cannot ignore the will of the population, you don't do that in the democracy.
So, I think if I was a politician worried about my future, I would be very concerned even if I was a remainer. I would just hold my nose and vote to leave. We have to do it now. There is no way out in my opinion.
Sputnik: Professor, Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson opposed the backstop in its current form. In your opinion, what changes have to be made to the deal to gain support from many hard-line Brexiteers within the Conservative Party?
David Collins: The simplest thing of all would be as I suggested earlier an end date to the backstop. If there was a set date, whatever, December 31st, 2021, whatever, that probably would have been enough.
I think as someone that was a supporter of Brexit that would have been a scrap, I mean it would have been an absolute bare minimum and I think the European Research Group and the hard Brexiteers would have been grumpy and unhappy but they would have voted for it. So, I think at the bare minimum would have been an end date to the backstop. And the EU wouldn't even give us that.
So, if the EU wouldn't give us the absolute bare minimum then there was really no negotiating and the EU, if you want to look at them as tough negotiators, they drew their line in the sand, they stuck to their guns, they wouldn't back down, and fair play to them. And I think the result likely will be some harder Brexit than we probably would have liked.
Sputnik: Professor, what is your forecast on the March the 12 vote?
David Collins: Well, I think what we are going to see is probably a delay. Theresa May… well, one of the strangest things of all of this, as she seems to be emerging as one of the great politicians of our time in as much as she is a magnificent schemer. And she seems to have this knack of surviving things even without actually achieving anything. So, the classic way that she will do that is by a delay.
So I have a feeling we will get a delay vote on May 12 and then it will fall to Theresa May to go back to the EU and say: "Ok, we voted for a delay. What delay can you give us and under what terms?"
And then the EU being the EU will give us a very, very tough one and it will be completely on their terms. But I think we will see the process delayed at least for the rest of the summer. So you and I or one of your colleagues and perhaps another person from the UK will be having these discussions for many months to come.
Views and opinions, expressed in the article are those of David Collins and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.