A highly skilled negotiator just hammered out a deal that many doubted could be made and fewer believed could be passed through their government. That negotiator was Theresa May.
Brexit was going to occur; that vote had already been made. The difficulty the UK has faced has been continuing to have trade and travel arrangements with the remainder of the EU after Great Britain re-established independence.
The success of Brexit was predicated upon the expectation that direct trade with the United States would more than offset some losses in the EU zone. In the long run, goods and services the country provides were of such value that they would be able to negotiate favorable terms with the EU for continued trade.
As one of his first statements as President, Donald Trump pledged that a favorable US/UK trade deal would quickly happen.
This plan ran into significant trouble when the United States decided to initiate trade wars. No longer having the economic protection of strengthened US trade, the UK was facing significant problems when Brexit occurred. The lack of a firm deal with the EU could lead to a sudden, massive economic isolation of the country which would in turn curtail jobs, restrict government income and damage the general standard of living.
According to the Washington Post, President Trump signaled his displeasure with May by berating her over the phone about her EU negotiations when she called to congratulate him on the Republicans holding the Senate. A successful UK/EU deal will diminish any leverage the US had to demand preferential terms; she also refused to use the tactics he suggested to her, which was to sue the EU.
The internal struggles which had triggered Brexit remain, however. Many of the politicians which had pushed Brexit are willing to risk that isolation – and the damage it could bring – in order to re-establish a complete independence. They are now critical of the deal that May has arranged.
Other politicians which were against Brexit want to reap continued economic benefits at the expense of some of their national sovereignity. They are also critical of the deal that May has arranged.
Because of the pushback from both sides, it is unknown if the deal will pass Parliament, despite the EU signing on. If it does not pass, the likely result will be either a hard reversal on Brexit if Labour and its associates gain power in upcoming elections or a non-negotiated, hard Brexit if the pro-Brexit wing of the Tory party takes power. May is gambling on neither side wanting to take the complete loss were their adversaries to win.
The specifics of the deal are still unknown, being released only to the politicians who are due to debate its passage in Parliament. Some generalities are known, however, and they point to an independent Britain with a two-year transitional period having some deferential ties to the EU.
Per the BBC, the agreement contains a “backstop” which will set customs processing throughout all of the UK, not simply at the Northern Irleland border, which will prevent the re-establishment of a hard border with Ireland. The backstop is a position of last resort which both sides propose not to use. It clarifies what will happen to the Irish border should there be no deal between the EU and the UK. That default position, even though it is not expected to be used, has been a key sticking point in arrangements going forward. Both sides feared a loss of bargaining power in the general agreement if the backstop were considered a favorable outcome, and the Irish were firmly against the re-establishment of hardened border controls.
Also from the BBC, the deal contains details of the transitioning rights of citizens both of the UK and the EU respective to the two bodies and details of the “divorce bill”, the more than $30 billion dollars the UK will be required to pay the EU to facilitate their removal.
This deal does not cover the actual negotiations of trade with the EU. That is a monstrous hurdle yet to be cleared. But it could not even be confronted without a groundwork being laid, and the time was running out for any such agreement.