The revised deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU

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On 17 October it was announced that the UK and the EU had reached agreement on a deal for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The announcement means that a deal has been agreed at negotiator level. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, have both welcomed the deal. Mr Juncker saying that he recommends the European Council endorses the deal. The revised Withdrawal Agreement still needs the approval of the UK Parliament and the European parliament.

This blog will briefly outline the key elements of the revised Withdrawal Agreement which focuses on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The arrangements would come into place from 2021, after the end of the transition period.

Much of the previous Withdrawal Agreement still stands. On Monday 26 November, SPICe produced a briefing on the Withdrawal Agreement entitled the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The backstop which has been controversial has been removed.

Northern Ireland will remain a part of the UK’s customs territory but will also have access to the EU single market.

As part of the UK’s customs territory, Northern Ireland will be included in any future trade deals negotiated by the UK. Northern Ireland will, however, also remain a point of entry to the EU’s customs zone. This means that if goods are destined for the EU and enter across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland then EU tariffs (tax) will be collected. If goods are not intended for transportation to the EU then UK tariffs will apply to products entering Norther Ireland. In both situations, UK authorities will apply the relevant tariffs, but EU officials may be present.

There will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) and Ireland (which remains part of the EU). The border will, in effect however, be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland with checks at ports in Northern Ireland. This avoids a so-called ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the Single Market, meaning that Northern Ireland will follow EU rules on things like agriculture and food. Any checks which are required on goods will, like with customs, be done at airports and ports and not at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The UK will be responsible for applying EU rules in Northern Ireland.

On Value Added Tax (VAT), EU rates will apply to goods, but not services, in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will also be able to have a different rate of VAT to the rest of the Great Britain where such exemptions or reduced rates would bring it in line with provisions in Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to vote on whether to continue with the arrangements after an initial four-year period. The vote will be a simple majority and will not require a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists.

If the vote is carried, the arrangements will continue for a further four years. If the vote is carried with a majority of both unionists and nationalists (“cross-community support”) then the arrangements will be in place for eight years.

In the event that the vote is not carried, there would be a two-year period where existing arrangements would continue.

What happens next?

The EU Council is meeting on 17 and 18 October. President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he recommends the European Council endorses the deal. If the European Council does endorse the deal it will still need to be agreed in a vote of the European Parliament.

The UK Parliament will sit on Saturday 19 October following a vote in the House of Commons. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, also known as the ‘Benn Act’ requires that the Government requests an Article 50 extension and seeks to defer the Brexit date until 31 January 2020 if:

  • a withdrawal agreement has not been approved by the House of Commons by 19 October; and
  • if the Commons has not approved a motion to leave the EU without a deal by this date.

Sarah Atherton, Senior Researcher, Parliament and Constitution