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Red lines

Brexit: What's next?

It was a big week, Brexit wise.

MANY BREXIT COMMENTATORS believed that we would have a clearer picture of what Brexit will look like by today.

Those predictions have not really been borne out, despite the delivery of a key speech by the British Prime Minister and the publication of an important document by the European Union.

We do have the starting negotiation positions from both the EU and the UK – but right now, all we can see are differences.

On Wednesday, the European Commission published draft text of what it is calling a Withdrawal Agreement. It is 118 pages long and includes a controversial protocol on Northern Ireland which is already a huge sticking point for the UK. In the absence of a deal, it outlines how Northern Ireland would become part of the EU customs union to ensure no hard border will be established on the island.

British Prime Minister rejected that out of hand and said there would be no breaking up of the UK’s common market or a border running down the Irish Sea.

On Friday, then, she reiterated her support for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, ensuring that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland. Her proposals for how to do that – by way of either a customs partnership or special customs arrangement with specific exemptions for Northern Ireland – were the same as those dismissed by the EU last August.

So, where does that leave us?

With a lot of work for both Barnier and May to do. Here’s what’s due to happen over the coming year…


Monday 5 March and Tuesday 6 March

DUP and Sinn Féin leaders Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill will travel to Brussels to meet chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

The DUP said on Friday its delegation’s message on Tuesday would be clear:

We want to see a sensible Brexit that works for everyone.

MEPs Matt Carthy and Martina Anderson are also part of Sinn Féin’s group which will be carrying a different aim on Monday. McDonald has said:

“Sinn Féin has consistently called for the North to be designated special status… Since the referendum, the Tory government has repeated their rhetoric of no hard border across Ireland and failed to bring forward a workable solution to how this would be achieved.

“Prime Minister May agreed principles to avoid a hard border in December. On Wednesday, she rejected her own deal. It is clear that the British Government approach to Brexit, once thought of as merely disorganised, has been exposed as destructive.”

22-23 March 

There will be an EU summit in Brussels which will see Barnier given the mandate to negotiate.

Speaking this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is preparing for this March European Council, which is expected to agree new Negotiation Guidelines.

“Progress on the Withdrawal Agreement published this week will be important in the context of that next phase of work.”

Over the two days, the European Council, in an EU 27 format, will “review the state of the negotiations following the United Kingdom’s notification of its intention to leave the EU and adopt additional guidelines”.

Those additional guidelines will be added to the draft text which was published on Wednesday and will focus on the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

From April 2018…

After the European Council and European Parliament (particularly its Brexit Steering Group) has their say on the Withdrawal Agreement, it will be “transmitted to the UK for negotiation”.

The UK doesn’t have any similar document, other than May’s three keynote speeches given over the past 18 months.

Over these seven months, UK and EU negotiators will work to reach a deal on the terms of the UK’s orderly exit from the Union.

Remember, discussions about their future relationship can only be done in framework terms, rather than in real, legal deals. Those agreements can only be made in full once Britain has left completely.


The EU has set a ‘by October’ deadline for it to agree with the UK a final legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement. That is so it can be ratified by the European Parliament, the Council and the UK.

This is Barnier’s plan:

At the end of the negotiation period, the Commission will present a proposal for an agreement to the European Parliament and the Council, taking into account the framework of the future relationship of the UK with the EU.

The European Parliament must give its consent, by a vote of simple majority, including Members of the European Parliament from the UK. The Council will conclude the agreement, acting by a qualified majority representing 72% of the 27 Member States, i.e. 20 Member States representing 65% of the EU27 population. The UK must also ratify the agreement then, again according to its own constitutional arrangements.

18-19 October

As per the above, its hoped that a final draft of the agreement will be ready for this EU summit in Brussels.

It needs to be done as early as this (remember, the UK leaves on 30 March 2019, which is five months from this date) so that countries can get the required sign off from their parliaments about the EU-UK economic package.


13-14 December

There will be another EU summit in Brussels which could act as a cushion if everything isn’t in place by 18 to 19 October.

But, these deadlines would be getting extremely tight if that is the case.



21-22 March 2019

There are no details for this EU Council meeting as yet. And you’d need a seriously good crystal ball to be able to predict what will be discussed. Definitely one to mark in the diary though.

30 March 2019

The UK leaves the European Union. Deal or no deal.

Explainer: The EU is trying to force the UK to get real, here’s how

Read: May moots ‘associate membership’ of EU agencies, concedes neither side can have ‘exactly what we want’

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