Brexit Draft Deal Agreed
So we are finally approaching the end of the road as far as Brexit is concerned. Theresa May, Britain's prime minister has returned from Brussels with an agreement that, in her mind at least, satisfies the needs of the UK. After a long and tumultuous two year period since Britain historically voted to end its more than 40 year membership of the European Union, we finally have an agreement, in principle at least, on Britain's future dealings with the union.
The Agreement Explained
So what is in the agreement? Well at 585 pages it is a comprehensive tome of policies and agreements that will signal how Britain intends to have a relationship with the European Union. Clearly after more than 40 years of membership, Britain has a multitude of laws and trading principles that are inextricably linked to the union. The next few years or so-called transition period will see Britain re-establish many of its own new laws (or indeed in the case of most laws, bring the EU ones into British law).
The agreement lays out what Theresa May and the Department for Exiting the EU (DEeXU) have agreed with the other 27 heads of state of the remaining EU countries. Whilst the deal will not become law until it's voted through the British parliament (more on this later) the agreement is likely to form the basis of the UK's future with its closest trading partner, the EU. At 585 pages, it is going to be difficult to give chapter and verse of what the deal contains, but below we have laid out the headlines:
- The so-called EU Divorce Bill will be 39bn - this is one of the more contentious parts of the agreement. Chief "Brexiteers" like former home secretary Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg the leader of the so-called European Research Group, have proffered that the UK should walk away from the table and pay nothing.
- EU Citizens rights protections - One of the other big problems to deal with was the future rights of EU citizens residing in the UK. Theresa May had hoped to limit the rights of those coming to the UK after Britain's official leaving date (29th March 2019) but was defeated. Rights of stay will now be extended to all those who arrive in the UK before the end of the transition period (which could be as late as December 2022).
- Irish border - this was another huge point of consternation. Both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were vehemently against the reintroduction of border controls between the two nations. This situation has still not really been sorted at all. The current "backstop" option of Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union has been attacked critically by everyone in the political establishment and it threatens to be a big problem going forward.
Is Brexit now done?
Not really no. While this agreement has been accepted by all the other 27 heads of state of the remaining EU members, it still needs to be agreed in the British parliament. This is where the whole plan can come apart. Brexit has been a divisive issue since day one. A 52% to 48% vote split shows just how split the country is. This has not been lost on the political establishment. Sensing blood, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has jumped on the possibility to damage Theresa May and the Conservative party by claiming his party will vote against the deal that the prime minister has agreed. In principle this should be no problem; the Conservatives lost their overall majority in the 2017 election, but entered into a so-called confidence and supply deal with the Northern Irish political party the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to supply them the votes necessary to ensure a Conservative majority in parliamentary votes. Now it is clear that this deal is under threat due to the Northern Ireland "backstop". The deal could keep Northern Ireland locked in the EU, separate to the UK, for years to come, a deal that is squarely against their ideals of closer integration with the rest of the UK.
If Theresa May fails to get the deal through parliament then who knows what will happen next. The prime minister has been dangling by a thread ever since her misguided decision to hold a general election in 2017. At the time she read the political zeitgeist terribly and failed in her attempt to consolidate her majority. The likelihood is that if she fails to get the EU withdrawal agreement through parliament, her political career is all but over. If Theresa May did quit, the country could be thrown into turmoil and a general election would be the most likely outcome.
Are EU Citizens now safe in the UK?
In all likelihood, yes. One of the main tenets of all of the discussions so far are to do with keeping EU citizens who are currently residing in the UK there legally. This has been good news for those who have lived in the UK for several years and now call it home. The British government's intention has been to give all EU citizens residing in the UK up to a cut off point (looks like this will be the end of any transitional period) Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK after being in the country for 5 years. Originally that was going to cut off as Britain left the EU (on 29th March 2019), but this now looks like it will remain part of the transitional agreement. It seems highly unlikely that any deal done by this or indeed any future British government would remove the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. Both of the UK's main political parties at least seem to agree on the intrinsic rights of those currently living in the UK who arrived under freedom of movement terms. What the future looks like though is uncertain, especially for those who have family members who remain in the European Union. Only time will tell what the final outcome will be, but for now at least, it seems EU citizens who reside in the UK will be able to remain there indefinitely.
Reiss Edwards are professional immigration solicitors based in London and are recognised as experts in immigration law throughout the UK. In need of advice concerning an application for Indefinite leave to remain or British Citizenship, please contact us on +44(0)20 3439 9270.
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