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We have a new British parliament for the New Year - so what's the new Brexit timeline?

Here’s how much time there is to pass the “oven-ready” Brexit deal, and get those all-important EU-UK trade talks done.

Image: Empics Entertainment

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson promised to take the UK out of the EU by the 31 October, but he didn’t succeed. His new promise to take his country out of the EU by 31 January seems to have chimed with voters.

The task to ‘Get Brexit Done’ now depends on the will of the new House of Commons, – and how long trade negotiations with the EU will take.

The new parliament was reconvened on Tuesday 17 December to elect a House Speaker and allow MPs to be sworn in; the Queen’s Speech was held yesterday 19 December, officially kicking off the new parliamentary session.

Johnson has already passed the first hurdle and won a majority for the battered Withdrawal Agreement 2.0 – so can he take it all the way to 31 January, and then negotiate a quick comprehensive trade deal – or will he be forced to ask for an extension to the post-Brexit transition period?

Here’s how much time there is to pass a Brexit deal, and get trade talks done.

A bit about the original timeline

It helps to know what the original plan was to see how drastically things have changed, and how the current timeline might continue to shift. 

On 19 March 2018, the UK and EU agreed to a transition phase which would run from 29 March 2019 (the original date the UK was scheduled to leave the EU) until 31 December 2020.

The aim would be to give EU businesses, citizens, and authorities time to prepare for the new sets of rules for engaging with the UK, and vice versa.

It would mean that EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period would enjoy the same rights and guarantees as those who arrive before Brexit. The same would apply to UK expats on the continent. 

The UK would be able to negotiate, sign and ratify its own trade deals during the transition period while remaining part of existing EU trade deals – but this arrangement is conditional on both sides agreeing to a final withdrawal deal.

The Brexit deal vote

Yesterday, the new House of Commons voted on Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill; and passed it with a huge majority of 124 votes.

Parliament will now break for Christmas and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will return to the House of Commons on 7-9 January, where it will be debated and possibly amended.

With the Tories’ comfortable majority, these amendments shouldn’t be as troublesome for the British PM as they have been previously.

The bill will then move to the House of Lords for approval before receiving Royal Assent. This successful passage of the bill would pave the way for Brexit on 31 January.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, has provisionally chosen Wednesday 29 January as the day it will vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, assuming it is passed by MPs.

Fast or slow?

After that, it gets more murky.

Johnson maintains he will strike a new trade deal with the EU by the end of  the transition period, and will not take the option of asking Brussels for extra time.

The British government will have to decide by 1 July if it wants to postpone the 31 December 2020 deadline. On that date, it could make a one-time only request for either one or two years of extra time.

A fast deal would be “a very big ask” that would limit the ambition of the deal tremendously, Fabian Zuleeg, chief economist at the European Policy Centre, told AFP.

Without an extension, “maybe they can achieve something very basic that would give the UK very limited leverage on the tricky subjects like services, fisheries or Gibraltar for Spain,” Zuleeg said.

As a matter of reference, other EU trade talks have dragged on much longer from the launch of talks to implementation:

  • Canada deal: 8.5 years
  • Japan: 6.5 years
  • Singapore: 9 years
  • Vietnam: 7 years so far
  • Mercosur: 20 years so far

Six-month package

To sign a deal by the end of 2020, negotiators will have to wrap up a provisional deal in about six months, leaving time for translation, legal clarification – known as “scrubbing” – and ratification.

Given the tight timeline, Zuleeg says the UK would either have to accept major concessions on the key issues, or accept standard third-country status to win a deal.

If Johnson refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom once again, with Britain in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, rocking its economy.

“The default position once talks start is no-deal and third country status,” said Zuleeg, and that is much more dangerous for the UK, he added.

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