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On 24 December 2020, the UK and the EU reached agreement on arrangements for a new post-Brexit relationship. The Prime Minister described the deal as ‘not a rupture but a resolution’, insisting that Britain would become a reliable friend and partner to the rest of Europe from outside the EU.

Structure

The deal comprises, primarily, a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (the Agreement):

  • a free trade agreement on a ‘zero tariff, zero quota’ basis, covering the economic and social partnership, including transport, energy, mobility and fisheries, and some provisions to support trade in services;
  • a framework for cooperation between law enforcement and judicial authorities across civil and criminal matters; and
  • an overarching governance arrangement which will allow for cross-retaliation across different economic areas.

This will be supplemented in due course by unilateral decisions to be taken by both sides, including on financial services equivalence and data adequacy. The UK and EU also concluded an Agreement on Nuclear Cooperation and an Agreement on Security Procedures for Exchanging and Protecting Classified Information.

The deal does not entirely supersede the earlier Withdrawal Agreement, elements of which, particularly the Protocol on Northern Ireland, continue to have substantive effect.

The following are not incorporated into the new Agreement or the Withdrawal Agreement, and so ceased from 1 January 2021: free movement of persons between the UK and EU; UK membership of the European Single Market and Customs Union; UK participation in most EU programmes; part of EU-UK law enforcement and security cooperation such as the access to real time crime datas, defense and foreign policy cooperation; and the authority of the European Court of Justice in dispute settlement (except with respect to the Northern Ireland Protocol).

Ratification

Parliament was recalled on 30 December 2020 to debate and pass the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020, which gives the deal domestic effect.

MPs passed the Act by 521 votes to 73, a government majority of 448, after Labour MPs largely supported the deal. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, the various Northern Ireland parties, and one Labour MP (Bell Riberio-Add) voted against. Opposition from hardline Brexiteers didn’t materialise, with no Conservative MPs voting against the government (although two abstained: Owen Paterson and John Redwood). Thirty-eight Labour (or ex-Labour) MPs also abstained, including Jeremy Corbyn. Royal assent was given on 31 December 2020.

The deal awaits ratification by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union and legal revision before it formally comes into effect. The European Parliament will consider the draft in early 2021, with recent indications that the process would be completed by end February.

A closer look at the Agreement

The agreed text of the Agreement is available here.

It is structured into seven numbered Parts (Part One, Part Two etc). Parts One, Three, Four and Six are subdivided into Titles (which use roman numerals). Part Two on Trade, however, being rather longer, is first subdivided into numbered Headings (Heading One, Two, etc), then numbered Titles. The longer Parts and Titles  (as the case may be) are divided into numbered Chapters and (in certain cases) Sections.

Appended to the main body of the Agreement are around fifty annexes and three protocols:

  • on administrative cooperation and combating fraud in the field of VAT and on mutual assistance for the recovery of claims relating to taxes and duties;
  • on mutual administrative assistance in customs matters; and
  • on social security coordination.

A note on article numbering: it remains provisional and so is not always continuous. Most articles (though not all) use ‘placeholder’ numberings which contain a summary of name of the relevant Part or Title. For example, Part One, Title I: Common Provisions contains Articles COMPROV.1, … 2, and … 3, with Title 2 then commencing from Article COMPROV.13, and containing only a further COMPROV.16, and COMPROV.17.

The table below summarises the overall structure. The Institute for Government has produced an initial analysis of the deal which summarises what the main provisions of the agreement say, and what they mean, including whether the UK has achieved its negotiating aims. We will look at certain aspects of the agreement in more details in the coming weeks.

Click here to view the table.

‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me’ (Nina Simone, Feeling Good)

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