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Open Europe's Stephen Booth, David Shiels and Dominic Walsh examine the revised Withdrawal Agreement
17 October 2019
The UK Government and the European Commission today published the text of a revised Withdrawal Agreement and a revised Political Declaration, coming just in time for the start of today’s European Council Summit. The revised deal is expected to be brought before the House of Commons on Saturday. The Government also released a unilateral declaration concerning the operation of the ‘consent mechanism’ contained in the new Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
While the successful negotiation of a new deal represents a political victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson – including the re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement – the reality is that both sides have made compromises to get to this stage. The Prime Minister still faces a huge challenge in winning the support of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons, particularly as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has confirmed that its MPs will vote against the deal. Some of the so-called ‘Spartans’ in the European Research Group (ERG) have indicated they will support the deal – in spite of the DUP’s opposition – but the Government will still need to secure the support of a number of Labour MPs to get it through Parliament, many of which see this as a “harder” Brexit than Theresa May’s deal.
There is also the question of time. While the Prime Minister may be open to a short technical extension to get the deal ratified, he has ruled out asking for an extension on any other basis. There is speculation that he may seek to persuade the EU not to grant an extension (other than the purposes of ratifying the deal) to force a choice between this deal, revoking Article 50, or No Deal. However, the possibility of a General Election before ratification cannot be ruled out, and it is also possible that the House of Commons could take further action against the Government before 31 October.
The key features which distinguish the new Brexit deal from the previous one negotiated by Theresa May are that:
Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh has produced a “track change” document which compares the new Protocol to the backstop negotiated by Theresa May. Although large parts of the Protocol text are unchanged, there are two important points to consider:
The rest of the Withdrawal Agreement is unchanged. The standstill transition period lasts until December 2020, with the option of extension up to December 2022; the references in the Protocol to transition extension have been deleted, but their legal basis elsewhere in the Withdrawal Agreement remains. The financial settlement is unchanged, although the extension to Article 50 means that the total payment is likely to be in the region of £33 billion, not the oft-quoted “£39 billion” figure. The provisions for citizens’ rights, Gibraltar and governance are as before.
A summary of the key aspects of the new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is detailed below.
The table below compares the new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to the previous versions of the backstop – not just that negotiated by Theresa May, but the March 2018 proposal by the EU Commission for a Northern Ireland-only backstop. (If you cannot see the PDF reader below, please click here to access the table).