After months and months of negotiations, a draft withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK was published on Wednesday 14 November.
The draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement sets out the terms of the UK's ‘divorce’ from the EU, over 585 pages. In addition, the EU and the UK published a joint political declaration on their future relationship, which sets out broad areas of future co-operation.
The UK cabinet approved the document on 14 November, which got the ball rolling. Now, the agreement goes to the other 27 EU member states for a vote (25 November) before coming to the UK Parliament in December. Below are the key issues affecting agriculture from the withdrawal agreement with analysis around what it could mean.
The main aspect is the 21-month transition period, up to December 2020, allowing time for further negotiation of the future arrangement (if needed) and adaptation to a new relationship.
On page 4 there is a key paragraph regarding the UK’s ability to strike up other trade deals. It says that during the transition period the UK can ‘take steps to prepare and establish new international arrangements of its own’. However, any implementation of such deals can only kick in after the transition period ends, unless the EU agrees otherwise.
One of the big issues surrounds any potential hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (NI). The withdrawal agreement notes a ‘protocol’ which could come into effect if a future relationship deal is not agreed within the transition period. If the protocol becomes active then a ‘single customs territory’ between the EU and UK will be established. The agreement states, ‘Accordingly, NI is in the same customs territory as Great Britain. The single customs territory shall comprise: a) the customs territory of the Union, b) the customs territory of the UK”. This would see the UK and EU having essentially a free trade deal. However, there would need to be checks to ensure neither party is being used as an access point for the other. In addition, the UK would not be able to strike up trade deals that could undercut the EU’s position, basically resulting in the EU pretty much having control over the UK’s trade agreements.
However, this does not completely get away from NI being treated differently to the rest of the UK. Whilst products originating in NI can be sold in GB under a UK origin label those exported to the EU will have to be labelled as UK (NI).
If this protocol comes into effect, both sides would need to agree on an alternative. If one side does not agree, then it continues.
Responsibility for the implementation and application of this will fall to a ‘Joint Committee’ comprising of representatives from the EU and UK, as well as being co-chaired by the regions. Being co-chaired, any decisions would have to be agreed by both sides, including any extension of the transition period and ending any protocols. Any decision to extend the transition period will need to be agreed by 1 July 2020.
It has also been agreed that the UK will pay a ‘divorce settlement’ of around £39bn.