Brexit negotiations in 2019

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Brexit negotiations (2017–present)
Map of the United Kingdom within the European Union
TypeWithdrawal agreement
Transitional agreement
Trade agreement
ConditionRatification by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union at Wikisource
  1. ^ Oliver Robbins was appointed as the Prime Minister's Europe Advisor on 18 September 2017. He was previously the Brexit Department's first Permanent Secretary.
  2. ^ Incumbents during the negotiations were David Davis (July '16 to July '18) and Dominic Raab (July '18 to November '18).
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Lead negotiators for the UK and EU

Brexit negotiations are taking place between the United Kingdom and the European Union for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union following the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum on 23 June 2016. The negotiating period began on 29 March 2017 when the United Kingdom served the withdrawal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The period for negotiation stated in Article 50 is two years from notification, unless an extension is agreed. In March 2019, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May and European leaders negotiated a fortnight's delay for the Parliament of the United Kingdom to agree upon The Government's Brexit Treaty,[2] moving the date from 29 March 2019 to 12 April 2019. In April 2019, a further half-year extension was agreed between the UK and the EU27, until 31 October 2019.[3]. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union regarding Brexit began in June 2017, with the following negotiations taking place during 2019.


January 2019[edit]

On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted against the deal put forward by May's government by 432 votes against to 202 votes for. Shortly afterwards, the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, tabled a motion of no confidence in the government, a vote which was won by the Government by a margin of 325 to 306.[4] Following the confidence vote, Corbyn voiced opposition to entering talks with the Government on Brexit, until May had ruled out the option of a no-deal Brexit.[5] On 17 January, May rejected this offer, stating that ruling out a "no-deal" Brexit would be "impossible".[6][7] On 28 January 2019, May expressed opposition to the backstop that she and the EU had agreed to and urged Conservative MPs to back a backbench amendment asking for the backstop to be replaced by an unspecified "alternative arrangement".[8] On 29 January, this proposal, which was presented by MP Graham Brady, passed in the House of Commons by a margin of 317 votes to 301 votes.[9]

The House of Commons had also agreed to reject a no-deal Brexit in principle only, and also rejected other proposed amendments which would have given Parliament the power to extend Article 50 and block a no-deal Brexit.[10][11] Following the vote, Corbyn met with May and it was agreed that if May were able to successfully renegotiate the withdrawal agreement, another vote would be held on 13 February 2019.[12] It was also agreed that May would return to Brussels for more talks.[13][14]

February 2019[edit]

On 2 February 2019, the Prime Minister announced during a meeting in Brussels that the Leader of the Opposition had agreed to back a Brexit agreement which ensures that the Irish border backstop was not permanent.[15][16] On 7 February 2019, May held another meeting in Brussels and it was agreed that more talks would occur by the end of the month,[17][18] despite the fact Juncker repeated previous claims that the EU would not reopen negotiations.[19] It was also suggested that another House of Commons vote on the EU withdrawal agreement would be delayed and not occur until the end of March.[17] On 24 February, May confirmed that the vote, which had been slated to take place on 27 February,[20] would be delayed to 12 March and that a new Brexit deal was now "within grasp."[21][21] On 27 February 2019, the Commons voted overwhelmingly to make mandatory a Government timetable beginning 12 March that would give MPs the right to approve or reject the Government's draft agreement, or to accept or reject a "no deal" Brexit, or to extend (or not) the Article 50 deadline.[22][23]

March 2019[edit]

Following negotiations between May and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in Strasbourg, France, they announced on 11 March 2019 a new agreement who gave legally binding reassurances of the temporary nature of the proposed backstop. No changes were made to the actual withdrawal agreement, however, but it was supplemented by a parallel agreement.[24] Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar backed the new agreement as well.[25] Following this, UK attorney general Geoffrey Cox updated his legal advice on the withdrawal agreement, stating that the new agreement made "significant reductions in [the] risk" that UK would be trapped in the backstop,[26] but that the UK was still not able to unilaterally leave the backstop.[27]

On 12 March, the House of Commons again rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, voting against it by 391 to 242.[28] Immediately after the vote, May announced to the House that she would bring forward a motion declining to approve leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019 without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework on the Future Relationship, for debate and vote in the House the next day (13 March).[29]

On 13 March, the House voted against leaving the EU without a deal by 321 votes to 278.[30] The vote also amended the government motion by specifying that a no-deal Brexit would be ruled out at anytime.[31] Immediately after the vote, May announced to the House that she would bring forward a motion on extending the Article 50 negotiating period, for debate and vote in the House the next day (14 March).

On 14 March, the government motion was passed by 412 votes to 202. Four amendments were put forward, but all of these failed to pass. This meant that Prime Minister May would request an extension to Article 50 at the European Council on 21–22 March. Initially, there were two options. If the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration were passed before 20 March in a third meaningful vote, May would request a short extension until 30 June in order to prepare for an orderly withdrawal. If the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration failed to pass for a third time, May would request a longer extension, probably beyond 30 June. However, EU leaders and officials made clear that the latter option would require the UK to hold European elections in May since the new European Parliament will first convene on 1 July. In addition, the UK government would have to come up with a different negotiating strategy, such that a deal would be reached which the House of Commons could support.[32][33]

However, May's first option was blocked. On 18 March, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, announced that parliamentary procedure prevented the government from bringing substantially the same Withdrawal Agreement to vote again in the same legislative session.[34][35] Only if it were amended in substance, as occurred between 15 January and 12 March votes, could it be brought forward again.[36]

In a speech in Downing St on 20 March, May told the public she was "on their side", saying "Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice," said Mrs May. "All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want."[37] She proceeded to request an extension until 30 June at the European Council, hoping that her deal could still be passed before 29 March, after the conclusion of the EU summit. For this, the EU27 would have to provide enough changes "in substance" for Speaker Bercow to allow a third meaningful vote.[38][39]

On 21 March, the European Council (in EU27 composition) endorsed the Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Joint Statement supplementing the Political Declaration. These were the additional reassurances that May agreed with Juncker on 11 March. The EU27 hoped that this would suffice to convince enough British MP's to vote in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement. If this third meaningful vote succeeded, the EU would grant the UK an extension until 22 May (the day before the European elections on 23-26 May), in order to prepare for an orderly withdrawal. If it failed, the EU27 would allow May to come up with a new Brexit plan by 12 April. According to President of the European Council Donald Tusk, "all options will remain open", until that date. In a letter to all MP's, May spelled out these options: 1) passing her deal (which she preferred); 2) leaving without a deal on 12 April; 3) revoking Article 50; 4) requesting a longer extension before 12 April.[38][39][40][41] On 27 March, the House of Commons held a series of indicative votes on alternatives to May's deal. However, these didn't produce a majority for any of the tabled options. [42]

On 29 March, the original exit date, the House of Commons once again voted against the Withdrawal Agreement; albeit by a smaller margin than in the previous two votes (286-344). President Tusk immediately called an emergency European Council, to be held on 10 April. This gave the House of Commons the time to come up with a new Brexit plan through indicative votes, starting on 1 April. The government promised to consider the outcome of these votes as the basis for her negotiating stance at the emergency summit. The UK is expected to forward her position to the EU27 in advance, in order to give the twenty-seven member states enough time to formulate their response ahead of the summit.[43]

If this new plan were to involve a long extension, beyond 30 June, the British would be required to participate in the European elections; and the House of Commons would have to make that decision on or before 12 April. If the House has not decided this by then, there will under no condition be a further extension beyond 30 June.[38]

April 2019[edit]

On 1 April 2019, the second round of indicative votes did not produce a majority for any of the tabled proposals.[44] Following a cabinet meeting the next day, Prime Minister May called for a bipartisan agreement on changes to the Political Declaration governing the future relationship; a move welcomed by Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn. Labour's preferred future relationship would be a permanent customs union, a close security partnership and close regulatory alignment with the single market, especially in the domains of worker's rights, consumer protection and environmental standards; as well as continuous freedom of movement. If Corbyn and May failed to reach a compromise, they would put a number of options to another round of parliamentary votes. May would then use the outcome of either process as the basis for requesting another short extension to Article 50, preferably until 22 May, in order to avoid participation in the European elections. This would mark the first time in the whole Brexit process that the Prime Minister would consider either bipartisan agreements or parliamentary votes as a binding mandate.[45][46]

On 5 April, May sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk asking to extend the Brexit deadline until 30 June. In return, May pledged to make preparations for the European Parliament elections, in the event that a longer extension was needed. These preparations could be cancelled at any time, if the UK were to leave before 23 May, the first day of the elections. [47][48] [49] In response to May's letter, Tusk proposed a "flexible extension" of one year. Such a "flextension" would require (preparations for) UK participation in the European elections, but could be annulled at any time, once the Withdrawal Agreement had been ratified. Given that the Withdrawal Agreement is unlikely to pass the House of Commons any time soon, according to Tusk, a short extension would only create a never-ending series of delays, cliff-edges and emergency summits. Tusk also stressed the fact that the UK still had the option to remain, by unilaterally revoking Article 50. [50]

Meanwhile, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier expressed an openness to the idea of a permanent customs union between the UK and the EU. However, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would first have to accept the three demands of the EU27 which have been at the heart of the negotiations to the Withdrawal Agreement: the budget contributions, the citizens' rights and the Irish border. Only then could the talks on the future relationship, and thus a customs union, begin. This demand fell in line with one of the EU27's most consistent red lines: that the negotiations on the UK's withdrawal shall be finished before the negotiations on the future relationship could begin.[51]

This view was echoed by the EU27. There would be no negotiations on the future relationship, nor on the Withdrawal Agreement. The only thing that could change in substance during the extension period was the Political Declaration. The EU27 also demanded that the UK won't sabotage EU decision making in the event of a flextension. Prime Minister May, for her part, went to the EU summit without a bipartisan deal on an amended Political Declaration. This raised concern among EU leaders, who demanded clarity from the UK on what purpose another extension would serve. French President Emmanuel Macron seemed particularly sceptical about the prospect of a longer extension, partly driven by fear that the ongoing Brexit negotiations would divert attention away from his ambitious plans for further European integration, and give the UK the possibility to try and veto this reform agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel countered this by stressing the importance of an orderly withdrawal, something which a longer extension could facilitate.[52][53][54][55]

At the 10 April 2019 emergency EU summit, the European Council agreed to a compromise between May's/Macron's short extension and Tusk's/Merkel's longer flextension. The Brexit deadline will be delayed until 31 October 2019, with the option of an earlier withdrawal on the first day of the next month following ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. At the regular European Council on 20-21 June 2019, there will be a review to "assess the situation". 31 October as the new exit date erases the need to appoint a new British Commissioner, and excludes the UK from participation in the drafting of new legislative proposals, since the next European Commission is scheduled to take office on 1 November 2019. The UK has to make preparations for the European elections. If the ratification process has not been finalised by 22 May, then the UK will be required to actually elect new MEPs between 23 and 26 May or leave the EU without a deal on 1 June. In addition, the European Council conclusions and decision also incorporated the other demands by the EU27 as outlined above: no sabotage of EU decision making by the UK; no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement; and no negotiations on the future relationship, except for the Political Declaration. Finally, the Council conclusions stressed the fact that the option of Remain is still open to the UK.[56][57][58]


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