Brexit: Is the Withdrawal Agreement Really Oven-Ready?

As Britain gears up for its third general election in four years, European Council President Donald Tusk has urged voters and government opponents not to “give up” on stopping Brexit. With the campaign trail in full swing, Tusk warned in a speech that leaving the EU would see the UK become a “second rate player”, insisting that Brexit would mark the “real end of the British Empire.” It’s the rhetoric we expect from the EU and is not wholly surprising to hear.

Due to step down from his role next month, Tusk took the opportunity to make his final case for why Britain should remain in the European Union. Speaking at the College of Europe in Bruges, Mr Tusk said: “Brexit may happen at the beginning of next year. I did everything in my power to avoid the confrontational no-deal scenario and extend the time for reflection and a possible British change of heart.”

His intervention comes as the Prime Minister called the UK Parliament paralysed by Brexit, berating the house for refusing to honour the mandate of the people and to deliver Brexit.

In his first major speech of the election campaign at the LEVC factory in Coventry, The Prime Minister warned that a vote for any other party would simply perpetuate the deadlock with “dither and delay” and cause a “coalition of chaos” between Labour and the SNP.

These are trademark phrases we’ve heard before from the previous Prime Minister, though “strong and stable” has since been replaced with the clear mission to “Get Brexit Done”. Boris Johnson also referred to a potential Corbyn win ‘Nightmare on Downing Street’ – a strapline that certainly sticks in the mind.

In true Blue Peter fashion, Boris Johnson alluded to the “one he made earlier” in reference to the Brexit withdrawal agreement, insisting that all he needed to do was “add water” and “stir the pot” to ensure the UK would finally leave the European Union next year. It’s easy to gloss over the details when you’re on the campaign trail and eager to move on to matters other than our EU exit, but is the current withdrawal agreement as simple as getting Brexit done?

At present, the Brexit withdrawal agreement stands at 599 pages long, setting out the details as to how the UK will leave the European Union. The transition period is set to end in December 2020 and while this can be extended, the restriction is set at a period of one or two years. During this period of time, citizens who take up residency in another EU country, including the UK, will be allowed to stay once the transition period is over. Similarly, the agreement states that any citizen who stays in the same EU country for five years will be granted the right to apply for permanent residency.

As per the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will need to pay the EU the financial settlement or “divorce bill” to settle all of its obligations. While no figure currently appears in the document, it’s estimated that a total of £39bn will be paid over the course of several years, with a net £10.8bn forecast as the contribution the UK will make to the EU during the transition period.

The issue of a financial settlement remains problematic: without one, trade relationships could be soured, and legal action would undoubtedly ensue – but for leave voters, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

With regard to laws and disputes, the Withdrawal Bill states that the UK is to remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during the transition period. If the backstop is triggered and the UK seeks to form a single customs territory with the EU, the ECJ will not be able to resolve disputes between the UK and the EU directly. Instead, the dispute resolution procedure would be overseen by an arbitration panel. That said, if any disputes rest on the interpretation of EU law, the arbitration panel can refer to the ECJ for a final decision.

While the end of the transition period has been set as December 2020, getting Brexit done is simply one piece in a larger puzzle. Beyond the exit itself, negotiations will continue until a new agreement is reached on our future relationship with the EU.