Given the pace of change in political events, there have been a number of interesting developments affecting the Brexit process since the main text of this book was settled. A few additional points that may be of interest to those studying the subject are summarized below:
In November 2018, more than two years after the UK referendum on EU membership, the Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU and the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom were endorsed and approved by the European Council.
The Withdrawal Agreement proved controversial in the UK. Two members of the UK cabinet, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, resigned in protest and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) withdrew its support for the government on key parliamentary votes. In Parliament there was not a majority of MPs willing to support the agreement either. Most objections centred on the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’. This mechanism aimed at avoiding a hard border in the island of Ireland. It created a “single customs territory” between the UK and the EU, while placing Northern Ireland in a closer customs arrangement with the EU with privileged access to the single market for goods. The backstop was intended to come into force at the end of the transition period (31st December 2020) if no alternative arrangements had been agreed as part of the new UK-EU relationship to be negotiated after Brexit.
The European Court of Justice ruled on 10th December 2018 that the UK can unilaterally (i.e. without the permission of the other 27 member states) revoke its intention to withdraw from the EU. A parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal was due to take place in London on 11th December 2018, but was postponed by the UK government. At the time of writing, it is understood that the vote will now take place by 21st January 2019. The European Parliament, with elections due 23rd–26th May 2019, will need to give its consent (voting by a simple majority of the votes cast) to the Withdrawal Agreement as well.
On 12th December 2018, Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence from her party, the Conservative party, over the Brexit deal agreed with the EU. She comfortably survived the vote (200 to 117) and her party leadership cannot be contested for another year.
In its conclusions of 13th December 2018, the European Council confirmed that the Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation, and stressed that the Irish backstop was intended as an “insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland”, but that if it were to nevertheless be triggered, “it would apply temporarily”.
As this book goes to press, the UK is still scheduled to leave the European Union on 29th March 2019. Should the Withdrawal Agreement be ratified according to the Article 50 procedure, there will be a transition period (until 31st December 2020) during which the UK will remain subject to EU rules and regulations but unable to take part in any decision-making process. During this period, the UK will be able to negotiate its own trade agreements. The British government and the EU are committed to avoid a “no deal” scenario, that is, a situation whereby the UK would leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement. However, given the uncertainty over ratification in the UK, both the EU and the UK have stepped up their preparation for a potential British “crashing out” of the EU. Article 50 allows for the extension of the negotiation period. The EU has expressed willingness to support this option in order to avert a political crisis. Readers can find further coverage of Brexit in Chapter 27 of this volume.
Continuing coverage of political developments, relating to both Brexit and the wider EU, can be found at: