Boris Johnson`s Withdrawal Agreement 2019: Key Points and Controversies
On October 17, 2019, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “great new deal” with the European Union (EU) concerning the UK`s departure from the bloc, which had been postponed several times due to political deadlock and uncertainty. The deal, officially called the Withdrawal Agreement, was supposed to pave the way for an orderly Brexit on October 31, 2019, and provide a transition period until the end of 2020 for negotiating a new relationship between the UK and the EU. However, the deal faced various challenges both within and outside the UK, which ultimately led to Johnson`s failure to secure parliamentary approval for the deal and his request for an extension of the Brexit deadline.
What is the Withdrawal Agreement?
The Withdrawal Agreement is a legal text of more than 500 pages that covers various aspects of the UK`s separation from the EU, including citizens` rights, financial settlements, transitional arrangements, and a protocol on Northern Ireland. The agreement was negotiated by the UK government and the EU under the leadership of Johnson`s predecessor, Theresa May, who resigned after failing to get her own deal approved by parliament three times. Johnson, who became prime minister in July 2019, promised to renegotiate the deal to remove what he called the “anti-democratic” backstop, which aims to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which is an EU member) by keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU until a better solution is found.
The main changes that Johnson made to the Withdrawal Agreement compared to May`s version were:
– Removing the Northern Ireland-only backstop and replacing it with a new protocol that applies to the whole UK and creates a “single customs territory” with differentiated rules for Northern Ireland (which would still align with some EU rules on goods but not on services);
– Revising the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and the EU to prioritize a “comprehensive free trade agreement” and rule out an extension of the transition period beyond 2020 (unless both sides agree);
– Reducing the financial settlement payment from around 39 billion pounds to 33 billion pounds (with some amounts conditional on reaching certain milestones);
– Clarifying some provisions on citizens` rights, such as the right to work, study, and access healthcare, and adding a new independent authority to oversee their implementation.
Why was the Withdrawal Agreement controversial?
The Withdrawal Agreement faced various criticisms and challenges from different actors, such as:
– Opposition parties in the UK, who argued that the deal was worse than remaining in the EU and would harm the economy, the environment, and public services, as well as undermine workers` rights, consumer standards, and human rights;
– Some members of Johnson`s own Conservative Party, who claimed that the deal still kept the UK too closely aligned with the EU and threatened the integrity of the UK by creating a regulatory border in the Irish Sea and giving some powers to the EU;
– The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, which supported Johnson`s government but opposed the new protocol as a betrayal of the Union and a threat to the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violence;
– Some pro-Brexit campaigners and media outlets, who criticized the deal for failing to deliver a clean break from the EU and for containing potential traps and obligations that could tie the UK to the EU indefinitely.
Despite Johnson`s efforts to rally support for the deal, including by winning the endorsement of some former opponents and offering additional funds for deprived areas, he could not secure enough votes in the UK parliament to approve it before the Brexit deadline. Johnson blamed the opposition parties for obstructing the deal and called for a snap general election, which he hoped would give him a stronger mandate to push it through. However, the opposition parties refused to back an election until a no-deal Brexit was ruled out, and Johnson reluctantly accepted an extension from the EU until January 31, 2020, with the option to leave earlier if his deal is approved by parliament.
What are the implications of the Withdrawal Agreement for the UK and the EU?
The Withdrawal Agreement represents a compromise between the UK and the EU on how to manage their separation after more than four decades of integration. If it were to be implemented, it would provide a legal framework for the UK`s exit from the EU and minimize some of the risks and disruptions that a no-deal Brexit could entail. However, it would also create some new challenges and uncertainties for both sides, such as:
– The need to negotiate a new relationship between the UK and the EU within a short period of time, which could involve complex and contentious issues such as trade, security, migration, and fisheries;
– The potential divergence of regulations and standards between the UK and the EU, which could create new barriers to trade and cooperation and complicate the management of borders and customs;
– The continued uncertainty over the future of Northern Ireland and its relationship with the rest of the UK and the EU, which could fuel political tensions and legal disputes;
– The possible impact on the economy, businesses, and consumers of the UK and the EU, which could vary depending on the terms and scope of the new relationship and the global context.
As of November 2019, the fate of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Brexit process remains uncertain, with Johnson and his opponents vying for political power and influence. Whether the UK will leave the EU with a deal, without a deal, or not at all, and what the consequences of that outcome will be, are still subject to intense debate and speculation.