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Why last minute Brexit deals cannot work.



How about we start this lovely morning with a trip down memory lane?


You will recall the Maastricht Treaty: bane of eurosceptics, source of so many woes, embodiment of federal visions? Whatever.

Today, I am more interested in its signing.

If you think back to then (those of you old enough to remember the early 1990s), you probably think about this: the late-night debates and arguments at the European Council on 9-10 December 1991.

This was the moment of John Major’s “game, set and match” comment, as he secured opt-outs on the single currency, Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the social provisions (resulting in the Social Charter).


European leaders at the European Council, December 1991. (BBC)


“So what?” you say, “That was different from anything Theresa May might do.” And you would be right. However, that is not the point.

As any good textbook will tell you [cough], the Maastricht Treaty was not signed at that meeting, but on 7 February the following year.



The reason? Precisely that the European Council had made a bunch of decisions that needed to be turned into legal text.

That included Major’s concessions, but also other stuff that bubbled up.

Andrew Duff, European Federalist and President of the Spinelli Group, wrote soon after on this.


"Maastricht and Beyond", by Andrew Duff, John Pinder and Roy Pryce.


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All of this meant that despite principals’ agreement on a deal, that was not the same as a legal text that could be signed and then sent for ratification.

So, your image of signature should really be that of Foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and Financial Secretary to the Treasury Francis Maude📋 in a room decorated with curtain material, not a bullish John Major.


Foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and Financial Secretary to the Treasury Francis Maude, 7 February 1992. (European Council)


The point, I hope, is clear: holding out for a last minute deal in Article 50 is problematic for many reasons, but a simple one is that — given the hard deadline (which Maastricht did not have) — you cannot turn words into legal text instantaneously.

And here endth the trip.🔷


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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Dreamstime/Matthew Benoit.)


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Associate Dean, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Surrey and Deputy Director of the ESRC's 'UK in a Changing Europe' programme.
Guildford, UK. Website

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