Withdrawal agreement

Withdrawal agreement and political declaration

October 28, 2019

The legislative process to take the Bill to the next stages is halted and a general election is called for December 12, 2019

October 21, 2019

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons. The EU grants the UK a fourth extension of the period in which to get an agreement on its departure from the EU. It will now leave on or before January 31, 2020.

October 17, 2019

Prime Minister Johnson secures new Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. It is substantially the same as the agreement signed by his predecessor. The divorce bill of £39 billion and the protection of EU citizens' rights remain unchanged.

The big change is that in place of the Irish backstop is a revised protocol that leaves Northern Ireland remaining within the EU customs union and Single Market and creates a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.  This ensures that there is to be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  

November 25, 2018

The European Council approved a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future trading arrangements with the UK. The agreement is legally binding, the political declaration is not. The agreement bears some relationship to the UK cabinet's so called Chequers plan. In summary:

From March 30, 2019 to December 31, 2020 there will be a transition from the UK's departure from the EU to a new trading relationship with the bloc. There is provision for the transition period to be extended once only to allow more time for the trading arrangements to be negotiated.

During that transition the UK will remain within the EU customs union and the Single Market. The UK will have no say in any new trading legislation, it will continue to be subject to the European Court of Justice in relation to EU law and it will have no freedom to enter into any new trading agreeements with third countries.

Freedom of movement to and from the EU will continue. But citizens rights for British nationals in the EU and EU nationals in the UK will be safeguarded. EU nationals will be subject to immigration laws in the same way as nationals from other countries.

There will be an exit bill of around £40 billion.

There will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic though there will be more stringent trading arrangements. The UK will have no unilateral freedom to leave the customs union without a permanent mechanism in place to avoid a hard Irish border. If no alternatives are agreed during the transition, when the transition ends there will be a 'back stop' that will see the province bound into a deeper regulatory relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK.

EU member states will continue to have access to British fisheries. As far as financial services are concerned the UK and the EU member states would continue to have access to each other's markets provided both sides' regulations remain essentially aligned. The UK must set up an independent authority to police state aid which must take the advice of the European Commission on all decisions.

There is general agreement among British economists that the proposed form of Brexit will be damaging to the UK economy in the short and longer terms. 

The deal has still to be approved by the British parliament. It was rejected on January 15, 2019 by a very large majority in the House of Commons.  The deal came back to the House of Commons with very minor additional assurances regarding the Irish back stop on March 12 and was again defeated by a large majority. It is expected to come back for a third time in the next week.

Meanwhile the UK will seek from the EU a deferment of Article 50 to give time either for a new agreement to be negotiated or for legislation to be passed to implement the existing agreement if approved.

Chequers Plan

On July 7, 2018, the Cabinet agreed the preferred basis for the UK's future relationship with the EU. The overall aim is to

  • Give the UK an independent trade policy with the ability to set its own non-EU tariffs and to reach separate trade deals
  • End the role of the European Court of Justice in UK affairs
  • End annual payments to the EU budget with appropriate contributions for joint action in specific areas.

The plan consists of three main sections

1. Common  rulebook

This would cover all goods including agricultural products. It would commit the UK to continued harmonisation with EU rules, avoiding hard borders with the EU including Northern Ireland. Parliament would oversee UK's trade policy and have the ability to diverge from the EU. Cooperative arrangements would be established between EU and UK competition regulators. Different arrangements would be organised for trade in services where it would be in UK' s interests to have regulatory flexibility.

2. Facilitated customs arrangements

The borders between the UK and the EU would be treated as a combined customs territory. The UK would apply domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the UK but charge EU tariffs or their equivalent for goods bound for the EU. 

3. Free movement of people

The plan would end the free movement of people, giving the UK back control over its borders. A 'mobility framework' would allow UK and EU citizens to travel to each other's territories and apply to study and work.

For further details see the BBC news summary.

At the meeting of heads of state in Salzburg on September 20, 2018, there was strong opposition to the Chequers Plan as it was seen as likely to undermine tjhe Single Market.