James Nadal
5 minutes length
Posted: 28th October 2019

Brexit delayed: What you need to know

With more twists and turns than a Netflix thriller series, the Brexit saga can leave even the most avid news follower’s head spinning – the latest being a further delay.

So, after today’s announcement of another three month flexible extension, where do things stand now?

Below we explore some of the key questions:

Could the UK still leave on 31 October?

No. Brexit has been delayed again and will NOT happen on 31 October.

When has Brexit been delayed until?

The EU have granted an extension to 31 January 2020. This could end sooner if the UK Parliament approves the new Withdrawal Agreement.

So, there is no chance of a no-deal outcome on 31 October?

That’s correct.

What now?

Brexit is effectively on ice and we’re likely to have a General Election.

Is the UK still going to leave the European Union?

It’s not guaranteed but yes, unless something dramatic happens soon – the UK will leave eventually. It’s more of a question of time and how exactly we leave, rather than if we leave. That is unless, of course, a new Government is elected that changes direction and/or a second referendum occurs.

Could the UK still leave with no-deal at some stage?

Yes. A no-deal outcome is still possible as early as 1 February 2020 – the day after the new extension deadline – if the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified by the EU Parliament and the UK Parliament, and no other deal is agreed. However, both the EU and UK Government say they don’t want it to happen, having successfully negotiated this deal.

How else could a no-deal outcome occur?

The other potential scenario for no-deal is this: The UK Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and enters into the agreed transition period, during which the UK effectively remains part of the EU. But it is unable to strike a new partnership with the EU before this ends on 31 December 2020. It’s possible, therefore, that the UK exits on 1 January 2021 without a deal. In fact, the UK must apply by July 2020 if it wants to extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. Failure to apply by that point could, in theory, lead to a no-deal outcome in January 2021.

Why has Brexit been delayed again?

Though the EU and UK have agreed a new Withdrawal Agreement, it has yet to be ratified by the British or EU Parliaments.

The UK Government requested a delay from the EU – despite saying it did not want one – because of the Benn Act – a recent law passed by MPs to block a no-deal outcome on 31 October. Spearheaded by opposition MPs, it meant the Government had to ask for and accept an extension until 31 January 2020 to avoid the UK leaving without a deal.

But haven’t the EU and UK agreed a new Withdrawal Agreement recently?

Yes. In mid-October the EU and UK Government announced a new Withdrawal Agreement.

Why wasn’t this enough to leave on 31 October?

For the Withdrawal Agreement to proceed, it needs to be ratified by the UK and EU Parliaments – and it was deemed there was insufficient time to do so by 31 October – the original deadline.

The British House of Commons rejected attempts by the Government to fast-track the necessary legislation through Parliament, with opponents saying it was a long way off from being enough time needed to consider something of such magnitude.

How soon might the new Withdrawal Agreement be ratified?

Despite rejecting the Prime Minister’s timetable in mid-October, MPs did finally provide a majority for a Brexit agreement for the first time when they voted in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at the second reading stage. This was a sign the agreement may eventually attract enough support to be passed. However, the make-up of the House of Commons is set to change again with a General Election in December on the horizon.

What happens to Brexit after a General Election?

The current stalemate, partly caused by the fact we currently have a minority Government, could be broken if one party wins a majority.

If the Conservatives win a sizeable majority, it’s likely the Withdrawal Agreement would be approved relatively quickly afterwards.

However, if we end up with another Hung Parliament, with no party having an overall majority, things become less clear.

If Labour wins the election and forms a new Government, this could be the death knell for the agreement because the party opposes it. This could spark yet another negotiation with the EU, as Labour seeks a deal that meets its stated criteria for leaving. Labour’s plan is to then put a ‘credible leave option’ versus ‘remain’ in a second referendum.

In the unlikely event the Liberal Democrats formed a majority Government, they have said clearly that they will cancel Brexit completely by revoking article 50.

If the new Withdrawal Agreement is agreed by January 31 2020, will the UK enter into in a transition period with the EU?

Yes. If the new Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the EU with the Prime Minister is passed, the arrangement is for the UK to remain in the EU in a transition period until 31 December 2020. However, this could be extended by one year or two years, if both parties agree. So, it’s possible the UK could remain in the EU, under all of its rules and part of its institutions until 31 December 2022.

If the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is passed, is that the end of negotiations?

No is the simple answer. This agreement could be seen as merely the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end. If ratified and passed by both the UK and EU Parliaments, the Withdrawal Agreement then opens up the start of negotiations about the future relationship between the two parties.

They will have to then go back to talking about trade deals, security partnerships, and other important matters for once Britain ceases to be a member.

Often, trades deals take many years. The Canada-EU trade deal, which was concluded last year, took nine years, for example. There will be matters such as fishing rights, work visas and the UK’s ability to do trade with other countries to figure out.

What other scenarios are possible?

One possibility that has been widely discussed and appears credible is that opposition MPs put forward an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement for the UK to remain in the Customs Union with the EU or to form a new customs agreement along these lines. Previous votes suggest there may be enough support for this among MPs in this Parliament.

Another potential development, albeit one that is looking unlikely, is a second referendum. One way this could occur is if MPs pass amendments to Boris Johnson’s deal stating that it is approved, subject to a confirmatory vote. Or following a General Election, a new Government – either Labour or a coalition involving opposition parties such as the Lib Dems and SNP – could call another public vote.

It is also still possible a new UK Government could revoke Article 50, cancelling Brexit entirely. But that is extremely unlikely. The Lib Dems are the only UK-wide party to state this as their policy.

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