The revised Brexit deal: What has changed and next steps?

Briefing 22-10-2019

Brexit talks between the EU and the UK had reached a standstill in spring 2019, with the House of Commons refusing to vote in favour of the negotiated withdrawal agreement, including a Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The new UK government led by Boris Johnson, who came into office on 24 July, made a priority of finalising preparations for leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019, unless the EU was willing to renounce the ‘backstop’ included in the Protocol. However, the EU continued to restate its opposition to removing what it considered a legally operational safety net that would prevent a future hard border on the island of Ireland, in the absence of concrete proposals from the UK. At the beginning of October 2019, the UK government sent its proposals on revising the above-mentioned protocol, which were received with a measure of concern by the EU and other stakeholders. Discussions aimed at bridging the gap between the UK and EU positions were stepped up and, after a series of concessions, the EU and UK announced they had reached a revised withdrawal agreement, which was then immediately endorsed by the European Council on 17 October 2019. With only days to go until 31 October 2019, the date on which the UK is set to leave the EU, completing the ratification procedures to allow the withdrawal agreement's entry into force on 1 November is going to be a challenge. Whereas on the EU side no major obstacles are foreseen, in the UK, the House of Commons decided on 19 October to withhold approval for the revised deal until Parliament passes the related implementing legislation. Required by law to send the EU a request for an extension of the Article 50 period until 31 January 2020, the UK Prime Minister is nonetheless still aiming to fulfil all the necessary steps for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement to allow its entry into force on 1 November. This is also the stated aim of the European Union, although if the European Council were to decide in favour of granting an Article 50 extension, following the UK request, that decision would have to be taken before the end of October.