Brexit Bulletin, 16 November 2018

Nov 16, 2018

This week saw EU and UK negotiators agree on a Brexit withdrawal agreement. The deal has already prompted the resignations of several key members of the UK government and it still has to be ratified by both the EU and UK Parliaments.  Not likely to be an easy task.

Late on Wednesday evening, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May emerged from No. 10 Downing St and announced that the UK and EU negotiators had approved a draft withdrawal agreement for the UK’s exit from the EU. 

The agreement still needs to be formally endorsed by the EU27 member states and ratified by both the European and UK parliaments.  That process began yesterday with the UK Prime Minister facing the House of Commons for a lengthy debate where she attempted to win support for the deal from a somewhat hostile parliament.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said that “decisive progress” had been made; so much so that European Council President Donald Tusk has set 25 November as the date for a special summit of EU leaders to formally approve the agreement.

But what’s in the agreement?

The document which spans almost 600 pages, lays out detail on citizens’ rights, the length of a transition period, the divorce bill and the border on the island of Ireland.

The border conundrum

The Irish border has been a sticking point in these negotiations with the UK wanting to avoid a hard border on the island while also being reluctant to detach Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK to facilitate that.  The agreement says that if the Irish border issue is not resolved after a transition period ending on 31 December 2020, the UK in its entirety (rather than just Northern Ireland which had originally been proposed by the EU) will remain in a temporary customs union with the EU.  This means there will be no tariffs or quotas or checks for most goods traded between the UK and EU after the transition period and until such time as a free trade agreement or other trading mechanism is agreed between the sides.  

This arrangement will remain intact until a new arrangement can be agreed to enable frictionless trade on the island of Ireland. To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland will temporarily sit in a separate regulatory environment to the rest of the UK which will mean it will have to follow EU rules on customs, VAT and sanitary standards for example.  And the UK can only leave the backstop arrangement with consent from the EU. 

Hard decisions

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, Brexit minister Suella Braverman and Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara all resigned after the release of the withdrawal agreement.  Of the decisions made in the agreement, Theresa May said “These decisions were not taken lightly but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest." 

The timeline

The EU Summit is pencilled in for 25 November where EU member states will formally approve the agreement. Then the UK government will need to hold a vote in the House of Commons on the deal.  There are reports that this would need to take place in early December in time for the next scheduled European Council summit on 13 December and especially given the UK’s departure from the EU on 29 March 2019.

You can read the Withdrawal Agreement and related documents using this link and there is also a Q&A on the Northern Ireland protocol

Read all of our Brexit updates and Back to Brexit Basics on the dedicated Brexit section of our website.