Brexit withdrawal agreement

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Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union
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The United Kingdom (orange) and the remaining 27 member states of the European Union (blue)
TypeTreaty setting out terms of withdrawal
ContextUK withdrawal from the EU (Brexit)
DraftedNovember 2018
October 2019 (revision)
ConditionRatification by the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
DepositarySecretary General of the Council of the European Union
LanguagesThe 28 EU languages
  1. ^ Olly 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. ^ Other incumbents during the negotiations were David Davis (July 2016 to July 2018) and Dominic Raab (July 2018 to November 2018).
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The Brexit withdrawal agreement (officially: The draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) is an (as of 21 October 2019) unratified treaty between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), setting the terms of the withdrawal of the latter from the former (Brexit). The original withdrawal agreement was rejected by the House of Commons on three occasions, leading to the resignation of Theresa May from the premiership of the UK. It was subsequently renegotiated by Boris Johnson, with a new version published on 17 October 2019.[2]

It covers such matters as money, citizens' rights, border arrangements and dispute resolution. It also contains a transition period and an outline of the future relationship between the UK and the EU. Published on 14 November 2018, it was a result of the Brexit negotiations. The agreement was endorsed by the leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries[3] and the UK Government led by Prime Minister Theresa May, but faced opposition in the UK parliament, whose approval was necessary for ratification. (Ratification by the European Parliament is also required but (as of September 2019) remains to be sought.) On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons rejected the withdrawal agreement by a vote of 432 to 202.[4] The Commons rejected the Agreement again on 12 March 2019, on a vote of 391 to 242,[5] and rejected a third time of 29 March 2019 by 344 votes to 286. On 22 October 2019 the revised withdrawal agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson's government cleared the first stage in Parliament, but Johnson paused the legislative process when the accelerated programme for approval failed to achieve the necessary support, and announced his intention to call a general election.[6]

The negotiated and from both EU and UK government agreed withdrawal agreement, if passed by the House of Commons, provides for a transition period after leaving the EU until 31. December 2020, in which the UK would temporarily effectively stay in the single market, in order to ensure frictionless trade until a long-term relationship is agreed. However, the latter remains subject of negotiations yet to come. If no such agreement is reached by that date and the transition period is not extended, a no-deal Brexit would remain the default outcome in 2021.

Closely connected to the withdrawal agreement is a non-binding political declaration on the future EU-UK relationship.


2015 United Kingdom general election and 2016 Brexit referendum[edit]

In the Conservative Party's manifesto for the United Kingdom general election in May 2015, the Party promised an EU referendum by the end of 2017.[7][8]

The referendum, held on 23 June 2016, resulted in a 51.9% to 48.1% majority vote for leaving the European Union.[9]

Content (2018 version)[edit]

The withdrawal agreement, which runs to 599 pages, covers the following main areas:[10]

  • Money, particularly the division of assets and liabilities, and payment of any debt outstanding
  • Citizens rights, both of UK citizens in EU countries and vice-versa
  • Border arrangements and customs, particularly along the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland
  • The law, and the mechanisms for resolving disputes, currently vested with the European Court of Justice

The agreement also sets up a transitional period, which lasts until 31 December 2020 and can be extended once by mutual consent. During the transitional period, the UK will remain a member of the European Economic Area, the single market, and the customs union, EU laws will continue to apply to the UK, and the UK will continue to pay into the EU budget. However, the UK will not be represented in the decision-making bodies of the EU. The transition period will give businesses time to adjust to the new situation and time for the British and EU governments to negotiate a new trade deal between the EU and UK.[11][12]

On the Irish border question, there is a Northern Ireland Protocol (the "Backstop") appended to the agreement which sets a fall-back position that will only come into force should effective alternative arrangements fail to be demonstrated before the end of the transition period. If this happens, the UK will shadow the EU's Common external tariff and Northern Ireland will keep in aspects of the Single Market, until such a demonstration is achieved. Neither party can unilaterally withdraw from this customs union. The goal of this backstop agreement is to avoid a "hard" border in Ireland, where customs checks are necessary.[13]

The governance will be through a Joint Committee with representatives of both the European Union and the British government. There will be a number of specialised committees reporting to the Joint Committee.

The withdrawal agreement also includes provisions for the UK to leave the Convention Defining the Statute of the European Schools, with the UK bound by the Convention and the accompanying regulations on Accredited European Schools until the end of the last academic year of the transition period, i.e. the end of the spring semester of 2020-2021.[14]

The more important elements of the draft agreement are these:[15]

Common provisions[edit]

The Agreement assists the arrangements of withdrawing the UK from the European Union and Euratom (Art. 1), provides a clear definition for the territorial scope of the United Kingdom (Art. 3), and assures the legal liability of the Agreement (Art. 4). Additionally, it states that by the end of the transition period, the UK shall be denied access to "any network, any information system and any database established on the basis of Union law" (Art. 8).

Citizens' rights: general provisions[edit]

The Agreement defines and provides the personal scope of citizens, family members, frontier workers, host states, and nationals. Article 11 deals with continuity of residence and Article 12 discusses non-discrimination (i.e., it would be prohibited to discriminate on grounds of nationality).

Rights and obligations[edit]

UK nationals and Union citizens, family members that are UK nationals or Union citizens and family members that are neither of those two shall maintain the right to reside in the host State (Art. 13). The host State may not limit or condition the persons for obtaining, retaining or losing residence rights (Art. 13). Persons with valid documentation[clarification needed] would not require entry and exit visas or equal formalities and would be permitted to leave or enter the host state without complications (Art. 14). In case the host State demands "family members who join the Union citizen or United Kingdom national after the end of the transition period to have an entry visa", the host State is required to grant necessary visas through an accelerated process in appropriate facilities free of charge (Art. 14). The Agreement further deals with the issuance of permanent residence permits during and after the transition period, as well as its restrictions. Moreover, it clarifies the rights of workers and self-employed individuals, and provides recognition and identification of professional qualifications.

Coordination of social security systems[edit]

This title discusses special cases, administrative cooperation, legal adaptations and development of Union laws.

Goods placed on the market[edit]

The Agreement defines the goods, services and the processes connected to them. It claims that any good or service that was lawfully placed in the market prior to the withdrawal from the Union may be further made available to the consumers in the UK or the Union States (Art. 40 & 41).

Ongoing customs procedures[edit]

This title addresses the custom procedures of goods moving from the customs territory of the UK to the customs territory of the Union and vice versa (Art. 47). The processes that start before the end of the transition period "shall be treated as an intra-Union movement regarding importation and exportation licencing requirements in Union law". The Agreement also addresses the ending of temporary storage or customs procedures (Art. 49).

Ongoing value added tax and excise duty matters[edit]

The VAT applies to goods that are exchanged between the Union and the UK. By way of derogation from previous Articles, the Title permits access to information systems that are necessary for the application or processing of the VAT (Art. 51).


There are ten annexes to the draft. The first is a protocol to maintain an open border between the EU and the UK on the island of Ireland (generally known as the 'Irish backstop'). The second covers the arrangements for a common customs territory to operate between the EU and the UK, until a technical solution can be found that delivers both an open border and independent customs policies. The third covers operations of the joint customs territory. The fourth covers 'good governance in the area of taxation, environmental protection, labour and social standards, state aid, competition, and state-owned undertakings. The fifth to eighth cover relevant provisions in EU law. The ninth and tenth details procedures arising from main sections of the draft.

Northern Ireland protocol (the Backstop)[edit]

The Northern Ireland Protocol, known familiarly as the "Irish backstop", is the annex that describes the provisions to prevent a hard border in Ireland after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. The Protocol includes a safety-net provision to handle the circumstances where satisfactory alternative arrangements remain to come into operation at the end of the transition period. This aspect of the agreement is more fully described in its own article.

Revisions in 2019[edit]

The agreement was subject to revisions under the Johnson ministry's renegotiation in 2019. The amendments adjust approximately 5% of the text.[16]

Northern Ireland[edit]

The changes included the removal of the protocol on Ireland/ Northern Ireland, or "backstop", in favour of continued regulatory alignment on the island of Ireland. There were also amendments relating to the movement of goods and the UK customs territory. Northern Ireland is to be de jure in the UK customs territory but de facto in a customs union with the European Union Customs Union and thus in the European Single Market in respect of the free movement of goods, for at least four years after the end of the transition period (and for a further four years if the Northern Ireland Assembly so decides by simple majority, or eight years if the decision is by cross-community vote).[17][18][19]

Labour standards[edit]

The 2019 revisions also adjusted elements of the political declaration, replacing the word "adequate" with "appropriate" in regard to labour standards. According to Sam Lowe, trade fellow at the Centre for European Reform, the change excludes labour standards from dispute settlement mechanisms.[20]


Original deal[edit]

The reception of the agreement in the House of Commons ranged from cool to hostile and the vote was delayed more than a month. Prime Minister May won a no confidence motion in her own party, but the EU refused to accept any further changes.

UK government resignations[edit]

On 15 November 2018, the day after the agreement was presented and received backing from the cabinet of the UK government, several members of the government resigned, including Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.[21]

Revised deal[edit]

Immediately following announcement of a revised withdrawal agreement on 17 October 2019, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and DUP said that they could not support the new deal.[22]

UK Parliament votes[edit]

On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted down the Brexit withdrawal agreement by 230 votes,[4] the largest vote against the United Kingdom government in history.[23] The May government survived a confidence vote the following day.[4] On 12 March 2019, the Commons voted down the agreement a second time by 149 votes, the fourth-largest defeat of the government in the history of the Commons.[24][25] A third vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, widely expected to be held on 19 March 2019, was refused by the Speaker of the House of Commons on 18 March 2019 on the basis of a parliamentary convention dating from 2 April 1604 that prevents UK governments from forcing the Commons to repeatedly vote on an issue that the Commons has already voted upon.[26][27][28] A cut-down version of the withdrawal agreement, where the attached political declaration had been removed, passed the speaker's test for 'substantial change', so a third vote was held on 29 March 2019, but was voted down by 58 votes.[29]

On 22 October 2019, the House of Commons agreed by 329 votes to 299 to give the revised withdrawal agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson's government a second reading, but when the accelerated timetable which he proposed failed to gain the necessary parliamentary support, Johnson announced that the legislation would be paused.[30][6]

Political declaration of future relationship[edit]

The Declaration on Future European Union–United Kingdom Relations, also referred to as the Political Declaration, is a non-binding declaration that was negotiated and signed along with the binding and more comprehensive Withdrawal Agreement in connection with the planned withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), colloquially known as Brexit.

The text has been characterised as deliberately vague, keeping a range of possible options on the table, including continuing UK participation in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Theresa May takes personal charge of Brexit talks". BBC News. 24 July 2018.
  2. ^ Taylor, Rebecca; Heffer, Greg (17 October 2019). "Boris Johnson declares a Brexit agreement in place - 'We've got great new deal'". Sky News. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  3. ^ Kesbeh, Dina (25 November 2018). "European Union Leaders Approve Brexit Plan". National Public Radio. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Stewart, Heather (15 January 2019). "Theresa May loses Brexit deal vote by majority of 230". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  5. ^ Stewart, Heather (13 March 2019). "MPs ignore May's pleas and defeat her Brexit deal by 149 votes". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b James, William; MacLellan, Kylie; Piper, Elizabeth (22 October 2019). "Brexit in chaos after parliament defeats Johnson's ratification timetable". Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  7. ^ "At-a-glance: Conservative manifesto". 15 April 2015. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  8. ^ Perraudin, Frances (14 April 2015). "Conservatives election manifesto 2015 - the key points". the Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  9. ^ "EU referendum results". 24 June 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  10. ^ Chris Morris (25 November 2018) Britain's withdrawal agreement-what it all means. Reality Check, BBC; retrieved 2 April 2019
  11. ^ Rankin, Jennifer (18 November 2018). "Brexit transition could be extended to 2022, says Barnier". the Guardian. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  12. ^ BBC News (19 November 2018), Brexit: The transition period explained - BBC News, retrieved 26 November 2018
  13. ^ Henley, Jon (14 November 2018). "Brexit deal: key points from the draft withdrawal agreement". the Guardian. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Europa School: 10 Jan 2019: House of Commons debates". TheyWorkForYou. 10 January 2019. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  15. ^ Text of draft withdrawal agreement – European Commission
  16. ^ Holder, Josh; Holder, Josh. "How much of Johnson's 'great new deal' is actually new?" – via
  17. ^ Lisa O'Carroll (17 October 2019). "How is Boris Johnson's Brexit deal different from Theresa May's?". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  18. ^ Josh Holder (18 October 2019). "How much of Johnson's 'great new deal' is actually new?". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  19. ^ "New Brexit deal agreed but DUP refuses support". 17 October 2019 – via
  20. ^
  21. ^ Bloom, Dan (15 November 2018). "Dominic Raab resigns as Brexit Secretary over Theresa May's Brexit deal". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  22. ^ "Brexit: EU and UK reach deal but DUP refuse support". BBC. 17 October 2019. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
  23. ^ "Brexit: Theresa May's deal is voted down in historic Commons defeat". BBC News. 15 January 2019. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  24. ^ White, Megan (12 March 2019). "MPs tell of 'difficult situation' after May's latest Brexit defeat". Evening Standard. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  25. ^ "MPs reject revised Brexit deal by overwhelming majority". RTÉ.ie. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  26. ^ "Explained: The '1604 rule' cited by Speaker ... and a question for all Scots". The National. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  27. ^ Elgot, Jessica; Mason, Rowena; Boffey, Daniel; Syal, Rajeev (19 March 2019). "Brexit: constitutional chaos after third vote on deal blocked". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  28. ^ "A convention from 1604 just sent Brexit deeper into the abyss of uncertainty". NBC News.
  29. ^ "MPs reject May's EU withdrawal agreement". 29 March 2019. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  30. ^ "Johnson to Press Ahead After Timetable Setback: Brexit Update". 23 October 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.

External links[edit]