The withdrawal agreement is likely to pass and focus then turns to the future trade talksby Steve Peers / December 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
If tonight’s exit poll is correct, what does it mean for the Brexit process?
First and foremost, a sizable Conservative majority means that the votes are there in the House of Commons to pass the bill to implement the withdrawal agreement—which would have the effect of approving the agreement itself—by the end of January 2020. The UK will then leave the EU on that date, with an initial “deal.”
However, the withdrawal agreement does not regulate the UK’s future relationship with the EU. It sets in place a transition period during which EU law continues to apply to the UK, but only until the end of 2020. That period could be extended by one or two years, if both sides agree—but Johnson’s position is that it should not be. So that leaves a short period of 11 months during which to negotiate a free trade agreement, although such trade talks usually take years to conclude.
Attention then turns to these negotiations—unless Johnson is willing to agree to an extension (it’s possible that a large majority could give him more flexibility than the previous Conservative minority government had). The Johnson position is for a loose free trade agreement on goods and services, with limited if any alignment with the EU. But even such a “simple” agreement would rarely be agreed in 11 months. The clock will be ticking to complete a deal in that time. It’s possible that a deal could be struck that defers at least some issues to be more fully negotiated at a later date.
There’s a potential difficulty that even if a deal is reached, it might be hard to ratify in that time, especially if the EU’s national parliaments have to ratify it. But such national ratification is not required for all the EU’s trade agreements: it was not for the recent treaties with Japan and Singapore. In any event, it’s possible for the EU to agree to put a treaty into force provisionally, pending national ratification.
One important point though: even if there’s no deal on a future trade relationship after 2020, the rest of the withdrawal agreement will still stay in force. In particular, this means that all the provisions on EU citizens’ rights in the UK (and UK citizens’ rights in the EU), the special…