UK, EU announce change to Brexit deal ahead of key vote

U.K., EU announce change to Brexit deal ahead of key vote

UK, EU announce change to Brexit deal ahead of key vote

Britain and the European Union emerged from last-minute talks late on Monday to announce they had finally removed the biggest roadblock to their Brexit divorce deal, only hours before the U.K. Parliament was due to decide the fate of Prime Minister Theresa May’s hard-won plan to leave the EU.

On the eve of Tuesday’s vote in London, Ms. May flew to Strasbourg, France, to seek revisions, guarantees or other changes from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker that would persuade reluctant British legislators to back her withdrawal agreement with the EU, which they resoundingly rejected in January.

At a joint news conference, Ms. May and Mr. Juncker claimed to have succeeded.

Ms. May said new documents to be added to the deal provided “legally binding changes” to the part relating to the Irish border. The legal 585-page withdrawal agreement itself though was left intact.

“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” Mr. Juncker warned the legislators who will vote late on March 12.

“Let’s be crystal clear about the choice — it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all,” he said.

Ms. May said the changes should overcome lawmakers’ qualms about a mechanism in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

'Improved Brexit deal'

Brexit-supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely.

Ms. May said the new wording “will guarantee that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely.”

“Now is the time to come together to back this improved Brexit deal and deliver on the instruction of the British people,” she said.

But the changes appear to fall well short of Brexiteers’ demands for a unilateral British exit mechanism from the backstop.

Pro-Brexit U.K. lawmakers said they would read the fine print and wait for the judgment of Britain’s Attorney General before deciding how to vote on March 12.

Announcing the breakthrough in Britain’s House of Commons, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said lawmakers faced “a fundamental choice… to vote for the improved deal or to plunge this country into a political crisis.”

And Mr. Juncker warned Britain “there will be no new negotiations” if lawmakers rejected the deal again.

Britain is due to pull the EU in less than three weeks, on March 29, but the government has not been able to win parliamentary approval for its agreement with the bloc on withdrawal terms and future relations. The impasse has raised fears of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in Britain and the 27 remaining EU countries.

“This is a government in chaos, with a country in chaos because of this mess,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Ms. May has staked her political reputation on securing an exit deal with the EU and is under mounting pressure to quit if it is defeated again. She survived a bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December. As a result, she cannot be forced from office for a year.

'Softer' withdrawal ly: expert

The EU is frustrated at what it sees as the inability of Britain’s weak and divided government to lay out a clear vision for Brexit. It is irritated, too, that Britain is seeking changes to an agreement that Ms. May herself helped negotiate and approve.

Ms. May has been working frantically to save her deal, speaking by phone to eight EU national leaders since Friday, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

If Parliament throws out Ms. May’s deal again on March 12, lawmakers will vote over the following two days on whether to leave the EU without an agreement — an idea ly to be rejected, or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.

Conservative lawmaker Nicky Morgan said Ms. May’s position will become “less and less tenable” if she suffers more defeats in Parliament this week.

“It would be very difficult for the Prime Minister to stay in office for very much longer,” Ms. Morgan told the BBC.

Alan Wager, a Brexit expert at the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said Parliament this week could decisively rule out both Ms. May’s deal and a no-deal departure.

That, in turn, would make such options as a new Brexit referendum or a “softer” withdrawal from the EU lot more ly, he said.

“Finally, the House of Commons is going to have to make a final judgment on what it wants in terms of Brexit,” he said.


Brexit Timeline 2016–2020: the UK’s path from referendum to EU exit

UK, EU announce change to Brexit deal ahead of key vote

The United Kingdom finally leaves the European Union on Friday January 31, more than three and a half years since the country voted narrowly for Brexit in a June 2016 referendum.

Since then the UK has wrestled with the consequences, deeply divided by the outcome. As much of Europe has looked on in frustration, British political paralysis has brought two general elections and a third prime minister.

Here we look back at the key events since the historic vote in June 2016.


June 23: The United Kingdom votes in a referendum to leave the European Union, sparking a political earthquake across Europe. But the result is close: 52 to 48%.

A majority of voters in England and Wales have backed “Leave”, but Scotland and Northern Ireland have voted “Remain”.

David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the EU, says he will resign as prime minister.

July 11: Theresa May wins the Conservative Party leadership contest and becomes prime minister two days later. “Brexit means Brexit, and we will make a success of it,” she says to supporters.

Prominent pro-Brexit campaigners are given top jobs in May’s cabinet. There is shock in Europe as the post of foreign secretary, the UK’s top diplomat, is filled by the distinctly undiplomatic Boris Johnson.

July 27: Former EU Commissioner and French foreign minister Michel Barnier is named as the EU’s Chief Negotiator for the forthcoming Brexit talks on the UK’s withdrawal terms.

October 2: Theresa May tells the Conservative Party conference that she will trigger the EU’s Article 50 – the mechanism to set the formal exit process in motion – by the end of March 2017. Her speech sets out several red lines that dismay EU leaders, in a pledge to make the UK “a fully independent, sovereign country”.

November 3: The UK’s High Court rules that the British government cannot trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval (a decision later confirmed by the Supreme Court). It provokes the Daily Mail to castigate the judges as “Enemies of the People” as newspapers vent their fury at what they see as an attempt to frustrate Brexit.

Read more: Brexit Guide: Where are we now – and how did we get here?


January 17: Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech confirms the UK intends to leave the EU’s single market. No deal with the EU would be better than “a bad deal for Britain”, she says.

March 29: May sends a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, triggering Article 50. It sets the date for the UK’s departure in two years’ time: March 29, 2019.

Read more: 'I Will Survive' – the UK's historic vote to leave the EU and its aftermath

April 18: May unexpectedly announces a snap general election in the UK, to be held in June.

May 2017: The European Commission, mandated by the European Council, publishes its negotiating directives for the forthcoming talks on the UK’s withdrawal. The UK's financial settlement, citizens’ rights and arrangements for the Irish border are identified as key divorce issues.

June 8: The Conservatives lose their majority at the general election. May is forced to do a deal with Northern Irish unionists from the DUP to stay in power.

July 17: Brexit talks officially get underway in Brussels between EU and UK negotiators.

September 22: Theresa May says the UK will honour its budget commitments and proposes a two-year post-Brexit transition period, using a major speech in Florence to develop her vision of the future UK-EU relationship.

December 8: An overnight dash to Brussels by Theresa May precedes a major breakthrough in talks on the divorce terms, which have been deadlocked for weeks. The UK and EU publish a joint report outlining enough progress on key issues for talks to move on to future relations in the new year.


March 2: Theresa May gives more hints of compromise in a speech at Mansion House in London. The Brexit talks have seen the UK make significant concessions in major policy areas including free movement, budget contributions, the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), trade and fishing rights.

March 19: The UK and EU publish a draft agreement on Britain’s withdrawal. But the agreement is not totally agreed. The text is colour-coded, with whole chunks left white indicating that “no agreement has yet been found”.

July 6: May unveils to her cabinet her much-awaited Chequers plan, named after the venue, the prime minister’s country residence.

It builds on May’s previously outlined policy of “managed divergence” from EU rules.

But it suggests a much softer Brexit than earlier statements had suggested, with a “common rulebook” with the EU over goods. The plan is officially published the following week.

July 8: The UK’s Brexit minister David Davis resigns in protest. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson follows suit the next day. Other ministers resign too: in total, 18 will have quit over Brexit by the end of the year.

September 21: May is given the cold shoulder by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg. Her Chequers plan is seen as an attempt to “cherry-pick” from EU rules.

European Council President Donald Tusk says parts of it “will not work” and risk “undermining the single market”. Other EU leaders have repeatedly made similar criticisms.

May’s proposal for the Irish border is dismissed as illegal by Michel Barnier.

Read more: What went wrong with Theresa May's Chequers plan?

November 25: The UK and the EU strike a deal on the UK’s exit terms.

It is signed off by leaders of the other EU27 member states at a summit in Brussels – but needs the approval of the UK and European parliaments to take effect.

Agreement is sealed after May adapts her Brexit plan to include an all-UK customs union with the EU to resolve the controversial Irish border “backstop”.

December 13: Theresa May survives a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party. But she is forced to promise to step down before the next election, amid an angry backlash to her Brexit deal. A vote in parliament is postponed until January because of the strength of opposition.


January 15: The government loses the first “meaningful vote” in parliament on the Brexit deal, by 432 votes to 202. It marks the worst government parliamentary defeat in the UK’s history.

January 30: The UK parliament gives May a mandate to go back to Brussels to seek “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop.

March 12: The government loses the second meaningful vote by 149 votes, after the UK’s attorney-general says a hastily-revised deal does not guarantee that the UK can exit the backstop unilaterally.

March 20: Obliged to do so by parliament, May asks the EU to delay Brexit from March 29 until June 30. The next day EU leaders offer the UK two alternative extensions: to May 22 if the deal is passed, April 12 if it is not.

March 23: Hundreds of thousands of pro-EU protesters march in London to demand a second referendum on the UK’s membership.

March 29: The government loses a third meaningful vote on the Brexit deal in parliament, by a margin of 58 votes. However, this period also sees MPs unable to find a majority for any alternative solution – including a second referendum.

Read more:

What was in Theresa May's Brexit deal and why was it so unpopular?

How Brexit defined then destroyed Theresa May's premiership

April 10/11: After May requests another Brexit delay, EU leaders at a special summit approve a “flexible” extension of the UK’s membership, until October 31. The UK can leave the EU earlier if it passes the divorce deal.

May 23: The UK takes part in elections for the European Parliament, obliged to do so as it is still an EU member. The next day Theresa May says she will stand down as Conservative Party leader on June 7. She will remain as prime minister until a new leader in place.

May 27: The European election results bring victory for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. There is a strong showing for pro-Remain parties, but May’s Conservatives and the Labour opposition are annihilated.

July 23: Boris Johnson wins the Tory leadership contest after several weeks of ballots. The following day he enters Downing Street as the UK’s new prime minister.

Read more: 'Never Can Say Goodbye' – the UK's Brexit paralysis

August 19: Johnson issues a formal plea to the EU to ditch the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement. The EU refuses.

August 28: The UK Parliament is prorogued, or suspended, for five weeks, upon advice given to Queen Elizabeth II by Boris Johnson’s government.

September 3: 21 rebel Conservative MPs vote against the government in protest at its Brexit strategy of driving the UK towards an exit from the EU by October 31, with or without an agreed deal. They are expelled from the party.

September 5: Johnson says he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for another Brexit extension. It is one of several such comments over the summer and early autumn, insisting that the UK will leave the EU by October 31.

September 9: The “Benn bill” becomes law, in effect preventing the UK from leaving the EU with no exit deal, without parliament’s consent.

September 24: The UK’s Supreme Court rules unanimously that the government’s suspension of parliament was unlawful. The House of Commons reopens for business.

September 29: The Conservative Party conference opens, with a new slogan: “Get Brexit done”.

Read more: Boris Johnson's month of Brexit turmoil in September

October 3: The UK government sends a new Brexit plan to Brussels, including the removal of the backstop. It is widely greeted with scepticism, and rejected by the European Commission three days later.

October 8: UK-EU talks all but collapse amid acrimony. EU Council President Donald Tusk accuses Johnson of playing a “stupid blame game”.

October 10: UK and Irish prime ministers Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar announce a “pathway to a possible deal” as they meet in England. EU and UK negotiators agree to intensify talks.

October 17: The UK and EU announce dramatically that they have struck a new Brexit deal, ahead of a Brussels summit. It replaces the Irish backstop, following a compromise which sees the UK in particular make concessions over Northern Ireland.

Read more: From deal to delay: What happened with Brexit in October?

October 19: At a special Saturday sitting, British MPs withhold their approval for the deal until laws implementing Brexit are in place. It means Johnson is obliged to seek another Brexit delay from the EU. Another huge pro-EU march takes place in London.

October 22: Johnson puts Brexit legislation on “pause”, citing MPs’ obstacles.

October 28: The EU agrees to offer the UK a Brexit “flextension” until January 31. The offer is formally approved the next day.

October 29: The House of Commons approves a general election on December 12, lifting previous objections to Boris Johnson’s repeated requests.

December 1: Ursula von der Leyen takes office as European Commission President, replacing Juncker. The new European Council President is Charles Michel, taking over from Donald Tusk.

December 12: The UK’s general election is won convincingly by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, who gain an 80-seat majority. But Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular register strong anti-Brexit votes.

Read more:

The road to Brexit: Boris Johnson's first six months as UK prime minister

What has changed with Boris Johnson's Brexit bill? | Euronews answers

Brexit: What happens at midnight on Friday January 31? Not a lot.


January 23: The UK’s EU Withdrawal bill becomes law, after a relatively smooth passage through parliament compared to the earlier havoc.

January 29: The European Parliament approves the Brexit divorce deal.

January 31: The UK officially leaves the EU at midnight CET (11 p.m. UK time).

February 1: An 11-month transition phase begins, running to December 31, 2020. Most arrangements will remain the same but both sides face a race against the clock to sort out the future EU-UK relationship.

Read more on the history of the UK's complicated relations with Europe:

Part 1, 1973-1990: Je T'aime, Moi Non Plus

Part 2, 1990-2004: I'd Do Anything For Love

Part 3, 2004-2016: Should I Stay or Should I Go


Brexit deal: What happens next and what will change on January 1?

UK, EU announce change to Brexit deal ahead of key vote

London, United Kingdom – The clock, as Michel Barnier said, is no longer ticking.

Some four-and-a-half years after a slim majority of Britons voted to take the United Kingdom the European Union’s orbit, the UK and the EU finally signed a historic trade deal on Thursday.

The 660 billion pounds ($900bn)-a-year pact will determine the terms of the pair’s relationship from 2021 onwards and was reached after months of missed deadlines, acrimonious posturing and fraught negotiations marred by divisions over fishing rights, competition rules and governance issues.

The deal came exactly one week before the UK is due to exit the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31, when the Brexit transition period ends.

Announcing the breakthrough agreement, Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, on Thursday said it was a “day of relief” tinged with “some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead”.

Here is what you need to know:

What happens next?

The UK and the EU parliaments must move quickly to ratify the deal, which is yet to be published but thought to be about 1,500 pages long.

It is expected that both legislative bodies will sign off on the agreement. However, due to the short window of time left in the transition period, it will not be fully ratified until next year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to put the agreement to the UK Parliament for a vote on December 30.

MPs are expected to give their approval to the pact. Johnson’s governing Conservative Party enjoys a sizeable parliamentary majority and the opposition Labour Party has confirmed it will back the deal, as the only alternative to a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario.

But the EU Parliament has ruled out rushing through ratification before the end of this year. The legislative body will instead analyse the pact before deciding whether to approve it in 2021.

This process is unly to stop the deal coming into effect on January 1, as EU law includes a mechanism for agreements to be provisionally applied without its parliament’s consent – if approved by the 27 member states.

EU diplomats began assessing the deal on Friday – Christmas Day – and are expected to take two or three days to weigh its terms.

Member states will then need to agree before December 31 to approve provisional implementation in order for the deal to come into effect as planned at the beginning of next year.

What will change on January 1?

The deal will ensure goods can continue to travel between the UK and the EU without tariffs or quotas from the beginning of 2021, smoothing trade worth hundreds of billions of pounds – and euros – a year between the pair.

It is supplemented by other agreements on a range of other issues including energy, transport, and police and security cooperation.

But even with the deal settled, some friction will affect UK-EU trade from January 1.

More rules and increased bureaucracy will come into effect once the UK sits outside of the bloc’s single market and customs union, and analysts warn they are unly to result in “smooth sailing” ahead.

“Although there will be no tariffs on goods moving between the UK and EU, there will be new non-tariffs barriers – new checks and paperwork – which will make it more costly to do trade,” Maddy Thimont Jack, a specialist Brexit researcher at the UK’s Institute for Government, told Al Jazeera.

The new rules and requirements could also disrupt the flow of goods, causing problems for businesses which rely on just-in-time supply chains and, in the worst-case scenario, food shortages in the UK if border points become clogged.

Johnson said the UK had taken back control of its laws, borders, and fishing waters under the deal [Paul Grover/Pool Photo via AP]The pact will meanwhile see the UK leave the EU’s common fisheries policy, reducing the bloc’s access to its waters.

Fish became a totemic issue during the trade talks, despite the industry accounting for less than 0.1 percent worth of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP).

But the deal does not include provisions on financial services, which make up four-fifths of the UK economy, meaning blanket access for the UK’s financial sector to the EU’s single market will end on January 1.

It also contains no mutual recognition of professional qualifications, meaning British doctors, architects, vets, and engineers, among others, will have to seek recognition in the member state they wish to practise in from the beginning of next year.

The rules governing how Britons and Europeans travel, live and work will all fundamentally change, with freedom of movement between the UK and the EU coming to an end as of January 1.

UK citizens will need a visa to stay for longer than 90 days in EU member states in any 180-day period and EU pet passports will no longer be valid.

“Leaving the single market and customs union essentially means a lot more red tape. This is both for businesses looking to trade with the EU but also for people travelling there on holiday, with pets, or who may want to move there in the future,” Thimont-Jack said.

“It will be impossible to minimise all disruption – but the most important thing will be, when people or businesses get things wrong, explaining what they need to do instead and making it as easy as possible to do so,” she added.

Other changes to take effect from January 1 will see the UK no longer bound by judgements made by the European Court of Justice, no longer participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme and no longer have automatic access to key EU security databases.

What has the reaction to the deal been?

Johnson on Thursday triumphantly hailed striking what he called “the biggest trade deal yet”, adding that the UK had taken back control of its laws, borders, and fishing waters.

He urged Britons to make the most of what he called the country’s soon-to-be status of a “newly and truly independent nation”, and in a nod to the EU, said the UK would remain its ally and “number one market”.

EU officials struck a more sombre tone, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stating that the pair’s parting was “such sweet sorrow”.

“We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it,” von der Leyen said on Thursday. “It is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe,” she added.

Across the continent, meanwhile, many capitals were quick to express their relief that a no-deal divorce had been averted, with an array of leaders issuing statements welcoming the agreement.

Who ‘won’ in the end?

Both sides will sell the agreement as a win, though in reality, each made compromises to secure an agreement.

The EU can claim to have protected the integrity of its single market, while Johnson can tell British voters he delivered on his election-winning promise to “get Brexit done” and take the UK the bloc, with a trade deal to boot.

Anand Menon, director of the UK in a changing Europe think-tank, said the pact amounted to a “pretty good outcome for both sides” given their respective ambitions.

“In substantive terms, the EU have got a deal that allows the goods trade to keep going, which is where their surplus is, and puts all sorts of impediments in the way of services, which is where the UK’s surplus is,” Menon told Al Jazeera.

“And for Boris Johnson, getting this through with as little political pushback as possible is what this is about,” he added.

“It was never about maximising the economic benefits or anything that, it was about respecting the red lines, and I think, so far, the omens are all very, very good for him [Johnson].”

The EU’s Barnier discussed the deal with diplomats from the bloc’s member states at a Christmas Day meeting [Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters]However, Menon also cautioned that “one way or another”, Brexit would continue to “haunt” British politics, in particular, for years to come.

He predicted there would be “all sorts of issues” thrown up by the implementation of the trade deal, pointing to potential disruption to trade, the agreement’s protocol for Northern Ireland and also its possible effect on Scottish politics – where the ruling nationalist party is pushing for a second referendum on independence over Brexit – as areas of difficulty ahead.

Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the UK, will effectively remain in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods after December 31 in order to prevent the erection of a hard border between it and the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

“Brexit is basically throwing a massive brick into a very still pond,” Menon said. “There will be loads and loads and loads of ripples for ages.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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