Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed



It’s out. The draft political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU was published yesterday. The good news is that it’s only 26 pages long but as the Financial Times accurately notes its whether it will hold up to scrutiny on Sunday- when the EU27 and UK Government meets- and beyond.

There is some interest on the intention to replace the contentious back stop plan but the high priest of frictionless trade and common rule book that marked Chequers have all but disappeared. It remains ambiguous on trade and its anyone's guess whether the EU will wear the UK’s facilitated customs arrangement which some have dubbed magical thinking and fishing rights are anything but settled. But there is also repeated emphasis that there must be a level playing field, which ensures open and fair competition.

This week it was Mays strong words on  freedom of movement that caused a backlash from many ( and not just EU citizens) and this continues in the Declaration when it was made clear that the UK will ‘take back control’ of its borders and free movement of EU citizens to the UK will come to an end. But it means, of course, that free movement for UK citizens travelling to the EU will also stop. 

And as we wrote in this blog- the political declaration will not be legally binding: the political agreement is just a promise to agree, a kind of diplomatic engagement ring. And like any engagement, either side could break its promises with no legal consequences. So we may face a new cliff-edge come Christmas 2020, six days before the transition period ends (unless it is extended of course). 

It’s not clear when exactly the meaningful vote will be- some say mid-December. The Procedure Committee published their report on ‘the meaningful vote’ last week and they recommend that MPs should be able to vote on amendments prior to voting on whether to approve the deal or not. Read our summary of the report here

Last week it looked as if there was very little chance the deal would be approved by Parliament, the numbers just did not add up.  But as Anand Menon and Matt Bevington from UK in a Changing Europe write in the Independent-  support for the deal grows and MPs wishing the see of the possibility of a no deal taken off the table, it may actually go through. 

Recommend reading on the Withdrawal Agreement & Political Declaration

Members of the Alliance and others have produced very useful analysis of both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship- here is a list of some recommended reading: 

Brexit No Deal: impacts on rights, standards, governance and transparent law-making 

As we move towards a vote in Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, the Alliance has scoped what a No Deal Brexit could mean for civil society. We have used core principles around open and accountable lawmaking, maintenance of rights, standards and funding as well as governance, as a way of measuring and assessing the impacts of elements of a No Deal. 

Updated: your guide to select committees & what they are doing to scrutinise Brexit 

It’s worth keeping an eye on select committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and what they are doing to scrutinise Brexit. We have updated our grid to (nearly) all the relevant committees, what their role is and evidence & inquiries related to Brexit. Available here

November 25: upcoming special EU Summit

The final Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration are expected to be agreed by EU27 and UK Governments on Sunday 25th November. The German chancellor may still yet refuse to travel to Brussels on Sunday unless all negotiations are concluded in advance. Her demand is aimed at squabbling European governments as well as putting paid to aims to last minute wrangling by Mrs May. Meanwhile Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, threatened to derail the summit unless he won concessions on the status of Gibraltarsaying “This is an essential point and if this is not resolved then unfortunately Spain will not be able to vote in favour of it.” However it appears that Spain cannot now veto the Agreement.

The Irish border still appears to be the big unresolved issue with Max Fac raising its head again as a solution. But as ever it’s about timing and this contingency plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit may not be ready in time, the head of HM Revenue and Customs has warned.  Jon Thompson, the chief executive of HMRC, told MPs this week that even if Mrs May could secure agreement for her withdrawal deal within weeks it was “really difficult” to say whether the Irish backstop would be ready for the end of the transition period in December 2020 — meaning the government could have to extend the transition until mid-2021.
Under the draft divorce terms published last week, the backstop plan would take effect at the start of 2021 if a new free trade agreement had not already been secured. The plan involves a continuing customs agreement between the UK and the EU but would still necessitate some new regulatory checks for goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and from Great Britain to the EU.
Read more here about the Northern Ireland Protocol and all things backstop. Arlene Foster has also confirmed what No.10 has been saying despite this week’s Budget abstentions, that the two parties’ agreement was “still very much in existence”. Foster also said the arrangement is "not just about money" but also "making sure the union is secure".

Thoughts are now turning to whether May will be minded to support an amendment during the Commons vote some form of customs union to try and win over Labour MPs. The problem is - as with everything now - is that would require an extension of Article 50 to negotiate it. The European Court of Justice is to examine on November 27 whether the UK can unilaterally revoke article 50. We’ve got a summary of it here.  There is also lots of chatter about a second "meaningful vote" if the first one fails as expected.
Finally - and something that continues to rumble is what will happen to keep Britain in parts of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme. In August Mrs May announced that the government was spending almost £100 million on an 18-month study to develop the UK’s own version of Galileo


NewsletterMalene Bratlie