Tuesday

11th Aug 2020

Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks

  • Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said the European Parliament should monitor the implementation of the Brexit deal (Photo: European Parliament)

MEPs on the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on Thursday (23 January) recommended to the plenary of the parliament to adopt the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The report of former Brexit coordinator, MEP Guy Verhofstadt, was passed with 23 in favour, with three against. The parliament will vote on the Brexit deal on 29 January.

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The vote took place exactly seven years after then British prime minister David Cameron called for fundamental EU reform and called for an in-out referendum to be held on the UK's membership.

The committee vote was one of the last procedural steps for the EU in the adoption of the withdrawal agreement, after the UK parliament adopted the agreement on Wednesday and the Queen Elizabeth II formally signed it into law on Thursday.

"It is a very emotional moment for all of us," centre-right MEP Danuta Hübner told fellow MEPs.

The committee chair Antonio Tajani described the vote as "historical", a "sombre moment" and paid tribute to British MEPs on the committee who received a standing ovation from most fellow lawmakers.

Verhofstadt said the EU parliament should continue scrutinising the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

In a final act, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel will sign the withdrawal agreement on Friday (24 January) , which will then be sent to London for British PM Boris Johnson to sign.

This makes it possible for Britain to leave the EU next Friday (31 January) in an way that causes the least disruption for citizens and businesses across the Channel.

In fact, nothing much will change until the end of the transition period, which ends on 31 December 2020, as all EU rules and obligations will live on, except that the UK will not participate in EU instituitions and decision-making.

The divorce deal sets out the rights of EU and UK citizens living in the UK and the EU, although the registration regime in the UK has received stinging criticism from MEPs.

The agreement also sets out how to calculate and settle the UK's EU debts.

It also spells out special trading arrangements for the British province of Northern Ireland for after the transition period, making sure that the EU's single market remains intact.

While the whole of the UK will leave the EU's customs union, Northern Ireland will continue to enforce the EU's customs code at its ports.

It means some new checks for goods moving between across the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will be in place, and some goods which are deemed "at risk" of being moved onward to the EU could be subject to tariffs.

However, alarmingly to the EU, Johnson on Wednesday again claimed goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland would have "unfettered access".

Stefaan de Rynck, advisor to EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, told an event in London that the EU will not tolerate any "backsliding" on this Northern Ireland part of the Brexit deal.

Talks in March?

Once the UK is out of the bloc, the next phase of negotiations can start on the future relations, lasting until the end of the transition period.

These talks promise to be even more testing than the divorce deal, yet have only 11 months to be concluded after 47 years of UK membership.

Johnson has repeatedly ruled out any extension to the transition period. Any decision on an extension will have to be made before July, has to be requested by the UK, and must then be agreed by all EU members.

In a speech early next month, Johnson is expected to set out more detail of his hopes for a free trade agreement with the EU, along the lines of the Canada trade deal, that would at the same time allow him to strike other deals, for instance with the US.

EU officials have warned that the short timeline only allows for a streamlined future deal.

For talks to start, the commission will propose negotiating directives to member states, which are expected to adopt them at the 25 February meeting of EU affairs ministers.

All this means negotiations on the trade deal cannot actually begin before the end of February or the beginning of March.

'LPF'

A key buzzword for the next phase of negotiations will be "LPF", the level playing field.

According to EU preparatory documents, the bloc's aim "should be to prevent unfair competitive advantage that the UK could enjoy through undercutting of levels of protection" in competition and state aid, tax, social, environment and regulatory rules.

This means the EU will be looking for a substantial number of rules aligned with EU standards, ensuring enforcement and a dispute-settlement mechanism. The EU also wants the UK to follow suit if European policies are strengthened.

But London wants to remain as flexible as possible, as it is looking for other trade deals particularly with Washington.

On Thursday, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said that a post-Brexit trade deal between the US and Britain is a top priority and he expects it to be reached by the end of the year.

Analysis

Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)

The main points of the Brexit withdrawal deal between London and Brussels dissected. Although the EU is preparing to sign the agreement, the UK government has been rocked by resignations since its publication less than 24 hours ago.

Brussels warns UK of 'difficult' Brexit trade talks

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, warned the UK that future negotiations would be tough and that the relationship between the EU and the UK will never be the same after Brexit.

EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK

The remaining 27 EU countries also told the UK to quickly ratify the withdrawal agreement, and start negotiations on future trade. The EU is keen to protect its own interests and prevent unfair competition from Britain.

EU and Britain: 'New momentum' required for deal

British and EU leaders agreed that talks need to intensify to avoid an cliff-edge to the "economic Brexit", but there is little common ground yet in talks on how future relations should look like.

EU warns UK to abide by Brexit political declaration

"No significant progress" has been made on the latest round of talks between the UK and EU on how their relationship should look from January, according to Michel Barnier. The EU told UK to stick to its prior commitments.

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