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    Brexit: What happens now?

    October 20, 2019

    For the first time this century, MPs sat in the House of Commons on a Saturday to debate it.The new deal replaces the Northern Ireland backstop with special arrangements for Northern Ireland that will prevent a hard Irish border.There is also a new political declaration, which sets out proposals for the long-term future relationship between the UK and the EU.A key amendment from MP Sir Oliver Letwin has passed. It means that any support MPs give to the Brexit deal is withheld until legislation to implement the deal has been passed by MPs and Lords.Mr Johnson has now - compelled by the so-called Benn Act - sent a letter to the EU to request a three-month delay to Brexit.Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the government plans to hold a meaningful vote on Monday. It's not clear whether the Speaker will allow that to go ahead - he could rule it would be out of order.Another option is for the government to press ahead with legislation to implement the deal next week. That could also remove the need for a separate meaningful vote.
    The EU will now consider Mr Johnson's letter requesting an extension. He has made it clear that he does not want the extension but was forced legally to ask for it by sending the letter. Mr Johnson chose not to sign the letter and sent a second signed letter indicating that a delay would be a mistake.All 27 EU nations must agree to an extension. The EU does not have to give an immediate answer.If the EU refuses to grant the UK a delay to Brexit then Parliament has until 31 October to pass a deal and the associated legislation.
    The default position is still that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October at 23:00 GMT.And if MPs vote in favour of the deal, but the subsequent implementation legislation does not pass, the UK would leave without a deal on 31 October.Leaving without a deal (or withdrawal agreement) means the UK would immediately exit the customs union and single market - arrangements designed to make trade easier.Many politicians and businesses say this would damage the economy. Others say the risks are exaggerated.
    An early election is widely expected after 31 October when Brexit is currently scheduled to happen. It's unclear, though, whether that would be later this year or early next year.If Brexit is delayed, the House of Commons might be asked again by the government to back an early general election. That requires a 2/3 majority in the House of Commons and so far MPs have not been prepared to agree.An alternative route for the government would be a short new law specifying the date of an early general election - this would require only a simple majority and not need two-thirds of MPs.There is another much more dramatic way - the prime minister could call a vote of no confidence in his own government.
    At any point the opposition could call a vote of no confidence in the government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he would table such a motion.If more MPs vote for the no-confidence motion than against it, there would then be a 14-day window to see if the current government - or an alternative one with a new prime minister - could win a vote of confidence.
    There could also be another referendum although it would certainly require a Brexit delay and, most likely, a change of government first.The referendum could have the same legal status as the one in 2016. It would be advisory, and the government would have to decide how to respond once the result was known.An alternative would be to hold a so-called "confirmatory" referendum. That would be between a particular Brexit deal and remain - or possibly with no deal as an option. The result of this kind of referendum would be legally binding.Either way, the new referendum would require legislation to be held. There would also have to be time for the Electoral Commission to consider the question wording - especially if it's a referendum with more than two options.Experts at the Constitution Unit at University College London say it would take a minimum of 22 weeks.
    There is also the legal option of cancelling Brexit altogether by revoking Article 50.But clearly, this is not something the current government is contemplating - so it's only really possible to imagine this outcome after a change of government.The Liberal Democrats have said that if they won a majority in the House of Commons they would revoke
    Article 50 is the part of the agreement, known as the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out what happens when a country decides that it wants to leave the European Union (EU).
    It was triggered by Theresa May on 29 March 2017, starting a two-year countdown to leaving - although this period has now been extended twice.How could Article 50 be revoked?The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling last year confirmed that the UK could revoke Article 50 itself, without having to ask the other 27 EU countries for permission.This could be done by writing a letter to the European Council, made up of EU heads of state.The ECJ said the UK would then remain a member of the EU on the same terms - as it has now - including keeping its budget rebate (the discount applied to the UK's contributions to the EU budget).
    But it did set some conditions.The ruling said revocation should be "unequivocal and unconditional", suggesting that the UK could not simply revoke Article 50 in order to buy more time and then resubmit it at a later date.A senior lawyer at the ECJ said that "appropriate legal instruments" could be used if a member state tried to trigger and revoke Article 50 in order to secure a better withdrawal deal.
    The court ruled that: "Revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements."The UK government has a power known as the Royal Prerogative, which allows it to do certain things including deploying armed forces, granting honours and altering international treaties without consulting Parliament.
    So it is possible in theory that a prime minister would be able to revoke Article 50 without giving MPs the chance to vote on it.But there are limits to that power, and those limits have been tested during the course of the Brexit process.When Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the Royal Prerogative to prorogue Parliament for an extended period, the Supreme Court ruled this use of the power unlawful.Its use to activate the two year Article 50 negotiating period was also challenged by Gina Miller at the beginning of 2017.The Supreme Court ruled in her case that the government could not trigger the EU exit process without bringing it before Parliament.Because an act of Parliament was required to trigger Article 50, it has been suggested revoking it would also need parliamentary approval.
    The weight of legal opinion is that a law would have to be passed to allow the government to revoke Article 50, although some lawyers believe a letter from the prime minister would do.That's if a prime minister were to make the decision - but what if Parliament wanted to force their hand?They could potentially do this by taking control of Parliamentary business, as has happened on two occasions in the Brexit process - both times to compel the prime minister to seek an extension and stop a no-deal Brexit.In the same way, if there were a majority to do so, MPs might be able to instruct a prime minister to revoke Article 50.
    Brexit: What is in Boris Johnson's new deal with the EU?
    By Reality Check team
    BBC News
    17 October 2019
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    Related TopicsReality Check
    Image copyrightREUTERS
    A revised Brexit deal has been agreed by the UK and EU. What is in it?

    All sides want to avoid the return of a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit - with checks and infrastructure which could be targeted by paramilitary groups.

    Coming up with solutions to this - acceptable to all sides - has been very challenging.

    The new protocol replaces the controversial Irish backstop plan in Theresa May's deal. Much of the rest of that deal will remain.

    Here are some of the key new parts:

    The whole of the UK will leave the EU customs union. This means the UK will be able to strike trade deals with other countries in the future.

    There will be a legal customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which stays in the EU). But in practice the customs border will be between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with goods being checked at "points of entry" in Northern Ireland.

    Duty (tax) won't automatically have to be paid on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

    But where something is "at risk" of then being transported into the Republic of Ireland (which is part of the EU customs union), duty will be paid.

    A joint committee made up of UK and EU representatives will decide at a later date what goods are considered "at risk".

    It might be that duty is paid on goods that do not end up being sent on from Northern Ireland into the EU. The UK would be responsible for whether to refund the duty in these circumstances.

    Ordinary people won't have their baggage checked and duty won't apply to individuals sending goods to other people.

    There will also be limits agreed by the joint committee on the amount of help the government can give to Northern Irish farmers. The figure will be based on the amount they currently receive from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

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    Regulations on goods
    When it comes to the regulation of goods, Northern Ireland would keep to the rules of the EU's single market, rather than UK rules.

    That removes the need for product standard and safety checks on goods at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, because both will be part of an "all-island regulatory zone".

    But it adds to the checks between the rest of the UK - which will not be sticking to EU single market rules - and Northern Ireland.

    Enforcing the rules
    This will be done by UK officials at "points of entry into" Northern Ireland, but the EU will have the right to have its own officials present.

    It seems those EU officials may be able to overrule UK officials. "Where the Union representative requests the authorities of the United Kingdom to carry out control measures in individual cases for duly stated reasons, the authorities of the United Kingdom shall carry out those control measures."

    Northern Ireland's say
    Because Northern Ireland will be set apart from the rest of the UK when it comes to customs and other EU rules, the deal gives its Assembly a vote on these provisions.

    But this vote would not happen until four years after the end of the transition period that is due to run until the end of 2020 - so no earlier than January 2025.

    If the Northern Irish Assembly votes against the provisions, they would lose force two years later during which time the "joint committee" would make recommendations to the UK and EU on "necessary measures".

    If the Assembly accepts the continuing provisions by a simple majority, they will then apply for another four years. If the deal has "cross-community support" then they will apply for eight years, or until a new agreement on the future relationship is reached if that comes sooner.

    The deal defines cross-community support as more than 50% each of unionist and nationalist Assembly members voting in favour, or at least 40% of members from each designation if in total at least 60% of members have voted in favour.

    The UK government has said that if the Northern Ireland Assembly is still not sitting at that point, it will make alternative arrangements to make sure a vote can take place.

    The new agreement says that EU law on value added tax (VAT - a tax added when you make purchases) will apply in Northern Ireland, but only on goods, not services.

    But it also allows Northern Ireland to have different VAT rates to the rest of the UK, which would not normally be allowed under EU law.

    For example, if the UK decided to reduce the VAT on household fuel to zero, Northern Ireland would still have to keep it at 5%, which is the EU minimum.

    It also means that Northern Ireland may get the same VAT rates on certain goods as the Republic of Ireland, to stop there being an unfair advantage on either side of the border.

    Some things have not changed:
    Much of Mrs May's original Brexit deal will remain as part of the overall agreement. Some of the key areas are:

    The transition - a period of time during which all of the current rules stay the same allowing the UK and the EU to negotiate their future relationship - is due to last until the end of December 2020.

    The UK will need to abide by EU rules and pay into the EU budget, but will lose membership of its institutions.

    The transition can be extended, but only for a period of one or two years.

    Both the UK and EU must agree to any extension.

    Citizens' rights
    UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.

    Freedom of movement rules will continue to apply during transition. This means that UK nationals will be able to live and work in EU countries (and EU nationals will be able to live and work in UK) during this period.

    Anyone who remains in the same EU country for five years will be allowed to apply for permanent residence.

    The UK will have to settle its financial obligations to the EU.

    There is no precise figure but the biggest part of this "divorce bill" will be the UK contributions to the 2019 and 2020 EU budgets.

    As Brexit was delayed from 29 March to 31 October 2019, some of that money has been paid as part of the UK's normal membership contributions already. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that the bill is now around £33bn (down from £39bn).

    The OBR expects that most of the money - around three-quarters of the total - would be paid by 2022, with some relatively small payments still being made in the 2060s.

    Brexit: Does the UK owe the EU £39bn?
    Future UK/EU relationship
    This is addressed in the political declaration. This text, which is not legally binding, has also been revised by UK/EU negotiators.

    It says that both sides will work towards a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and a high-level meeting will be convened in June 2020 to take stock of progress towards this goal.

    The text also contains a new paragraph on the so-called "level playing field" - the degree to which the UK will agree to stick closely to EU regulations in the future.

    While the references to a "level playing field" were removed from the legally binding withdrawal agreement, the revised political declaration says that the UK and the EU should "uphold the common high standards […] in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters".

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