Boris Johnson managed to defy his critics today and reach a Brexit deal with the European Union. The new agreement updates the Northern Ireland protocol of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, which deals with the future relationship. But while the rest of the deal appears to be unchanged, Boris has succeeded in winning some key concessions from the EU.
Here are five reasons why Boris’s deal is better than May’s:
1. The backstop is gone
Firstly, the backstop that Theresa May negotiated with the EU has been replaced by a new Northern Ireland Protocol and the UK-wide Customs Union in the backstop has been removed completely. Northern Ireland will remain in the UK’s customs territory, which means its people will be able to benefit from any trade deals brokered by the UK after the transition period ends. The territorial sovereignty of the UK is kept intact and the country will have one common external tariff with the rest of the world (although goods coming into NI destined for the EU will pay the EU’s external tariff).
The downside for Northern Ireland is that the region will have to remain, as before, inside the EU’s regulatory orbit for goods, to allow its border with the Republic of Ireland to remain open. Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the EU, and some checks may take place for goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
2. Northern Ireland can leave if it wants
In Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the UK and Northern Ireland could only break away from the backstop as long as the EU agreed on alternative arrangements. As the EU would have no incentive to do this, May’s agreement essentially meant that the UK and NI would either have to remain inside the Single Market and Customs Union, or risk being trapped in the backstop forever.
In Boris Johnson’s deal, if Northern Ireland wants to leave the arrangement set out above, it can do so with a vote in the Stormont Assembly held every four years. The future of Northern Ireland will now be decided in Belfast, not Brussels. The DUP would not have a veto over this process, which explains its disappointment at the deal.
3. Free trade deals can start on New Year’s Day 2021
Under Boris Johnson’s agreement, the UK will be able to formally begin negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world as soon as the agreement is ratified by parliament. Until now, the uncertainty of the UK’s exit date from the EU has made genuine negotiations with most countries impossible.
But once Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement is passed, the UK will formally be able to conclude trade talks with the rest of the world. If the UK begins negotiating with the United States in earnest, a Free Trade Deal could be completed as soon as 1 January 2021, when the transition period of the deal ends.
4. Goodbye to the ‘level-playing field’ commitments
Binding commitments for the whole UK to maintain “minimum standards” in the areas of social and environmental policy, tax, competition and state aid have been removed from the withdrawal agreement This is the so-called ‘level playing field,’ a phrase the EU uses to extend its regulatory power over nation states. Whether the UK has to obey these rules or not will instead be decided in the next stage of Brexit talks (negotiations on the “future relationship”), giving the UK greater leverage in the next stage of the talks. This will not, of course, mean a lowering of any standards: the Tory agenda now is about raising standards higher still: new UK laws can replace the old EU ones to underline this point.
5. The UK still takes control of its money, borders and laws
The UK will have left the EU by 31 October 2019. And as soon as the transition period ends, the country will take control of its money, borders and laws. Yes, there’s £33 billion of divorce payments – but we will take back control of the £13 billion a year that we send to the EU, saving at least £70 billion net over the next decade. The UK will have the ability to control its own borders, and if it wishes, end the free movement of people with the European Union, and replace it with its own immigration policy that prioritises and encourages high-skilled people to come and live and work in the UK. This would happen in January 2021.
Now that the backstop has been removed, it also appears that ECJ’s jurisdiction has been massively reduced. The ECJ will still have jurisdiction over EU citizen’s rights for a time-limited period, and over disputes that relate to an interpretation of EU law in the WA. Northern Ireland will also be subject to some ECJ jurisdiction as long as it remains aligned to the EU. But once we leave, the UK will be free to set its own laws, in its own parliament, with its own elected representatives voting on legislation.