What is Brexit?
Brexit – British exit – refers to the UK leaving the EU.
A public vote (known as a referendum) was held in June 2016, when 17.4 million people opted for Brexit. This gave the Leave side 52%, compared with 48% for Remain.
The knotty details of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal with the European Union are contained in 64 pages of revisions to the old withdrawal agreement, and an accompanying road map to future relations.
After days of shadowy negotiations, the documents set out how Mr. Johnson’s deal differs from the one struck by his predecessor, Theresa May, which went down to a string of humiliating defeats in the British House of Commons.
These are the provisions that will determine whether Mr. Johnson’s deal meets the same fate. If the deal passes, they will shape Britain’s relationship with other European countries for a generation.
On customs, both sides agreed to a remarkable balancing act: Northern Ireland will officially be part of the U.K.’s customs territory, meaning that it applies U.K. tariffs and can participate in future British trade deals, but at the same time the EU-U.K. customs border is placed in the Irish Sea, meaning that de facto Northern Ireland follows the EU’s customs rules.
Both the EU and the U.K. have moved in order to come up with the compromise deal, but in truth it is London that has had to make the more radical concessions.
Under this fudge, U.K. customs authorities will check goods at British ports before they enter Northern Ireland. Those goods can pass without paying tariffs as long as their final destination is Northern Ireland and they are consequently “not at risk of entering our single market,” Barnier told reporters Thursday. “However for goods at risk of entering the single market, U.K. authorities will apply the EU’s tariffs,” he added.
The criteria for defining such a risk will be worked out during the transition period by a Joint Committee — the body set up under the Withdrawal Agreement to police the deal — taking into account specifics such as the value of the good or the nature of movement. The Joint Committee will also define exemptions, such as for fishing vessels from Northern Ireland that operate under a British flag and that won’t need to pay tariffs when selling catch into the EU.
It had been feared that the UK’s exit bill could scupper the negotiations. David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, told the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, early on in the talks that there was nothing in the EU’s treaties to suggest that the British government owed any money. Juncker responded that the EU was “not a golf club”, and that Britain would have to come good on the spending commitments it made as a member state. Huge figures circulated, with some totting up gross liabilities to be £100bn. That prompted the then foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to suggest Brussels could “go whistle” for its money. An agreement was finally made last November that the UK would stump up about £39bn, to cover its contribution to the EU budget until 2020, and accumulated other outstanding commitments such as pensions for EU officials.
The Irish border
This has turned out to be the thorniest issue to settle in the Brexit divorce agreement and still causes the most unhappiness among Theresa May’s critics. The UK had initially proposed a technological solution but this was rebuffed by Ireland and EU officials as “magical thinking”. The EU initially proposed that Northern Ireland should in effect stay in the single market and customs union, prompting a furious response from the British prime minister. The EU moved its position. The core of the solution is the so-called backstop, an insurance plan that kicks in if future trade talks fail to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The backstop means the whole of the UK will remain in the EU customs union, while Northern Ireland will have to follow single market rules. Brexit supporters loathe the backstop, fearing it will leave the UK “shackled” to EU rules. Wary EU countries think the plan benefits the UK, so insisted the UK respect EU social and environmental rules to to avoid undercutting their companies.