How would a Brexit agreement be ratified?

Dec 16, 2020


If the UK and EU do reach a deal, ratification of trade agreements normally takes months; and there are only days left until the transition period ends. Can it be done and what is the process?

If the UK and EU agree to a text of the Brexit trade deal, this needs to be followed by ratification by the European and UK Parliaments for it to be legally binding.

What’s the process in the EU?

Once the negotiators reach agreement, the 27 EU heads of state and government sitting in the European Council must unanimously approve it.   It then passes to the European Parliament to start the ratification process.  This process normally takes months - even years - to carry out.

Normally, the text of the agreement, which have been known to run to almost 800 pages, would be translated into each of the 23 official EU languages.  There have been murmurings among senior EU officials that there will not be enough time to do this. 

The MEPs in Parliament will have to vote on the deal before 31 December 2020. Normally, MEPS would engage in several months of hearings and questioning with the negotiators in order to fully rubber-stamp a deal.  In this instance, the MEPs would have a matter of days. 

There are provisions within Article 218 (5) of the EU Treaty to allow the EU to provisionally apply the agreement until the MEPs have had enough time to scrutinise, debate and vote on the deal. This process has been done before with new trade agreements, but with Brexit it may be a risk the EU is not willing to take.

And in the UK?

The system is reportedly less rigorous in the UK. There is no requirement for a debate in the UK Parliament, although in practice it is likely to occur. The devolved executives and legislatures have no formal say in ratification.

A Bill can start in the House of Commons or House of Lords and must be approved by both Houses before becoming law.  It would then receive Royal Assent and enter into law officially. 

All this must be done in a matter of days.