Mr Johnson yesterday concluded a new withdrawal agreement with the EU which will be put before Parliament on Saturday, after the rugby.
The main changes from Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement are that under the new backstop, that would come into effect on 1.1.2021 if a new agreement with the EU has not been concluded by then, there would be customs border between Eire and Northern Ireland but in practice customs checks on goods going into the island of Ireland, would take place on the UK mainland – not, as has been suggested, in the Irish Sea. Northern Ireland would also be subject to the rules of the internal market as regards goods and agriculture. Stormont will be able to vote on the continuance of this backstop four years after the end of the transition period and should it vote against them these provisions would lose force two years later during which time the “joint committee” would make recommendations to the UK and EU on “necessary measures”. In the absence of a sitting Northern Ireland Assembly at that time the UK would make alternative arrangements to provide for the necessary vote.
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”.
There are changes to the political declaration, too. The parties are committed to concluding a free trade agreement which provides for regulatory autonomy in para 18 as follows.
“The Parties will retain their autonomy and the ability to regulate economic activity according to the levels of protection each deems appropriate in order to achieve legitimate public policy objectives such as public health, animal health and welfare, social services, public education, safety, the environment including climate change, public morals, social or consumer protection, privacy and data protection, and promotion and protection of cultural diversity. The economic partnership will recognise that sustainable development is an overarching objective of the Parties. The economic partnership will also provide for appropriate general exceptions, including in relation to security.”
Para 21 contemplates “free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition, as set out in Section XIV of this Part.”
Shortly afterwards there follows one of those exceptions.
- While preserving regulatory autonomy, the Parties will put in place provisions to promote regulatory approaches that are transparent, efficient, promote avoidance of unnecessary barriers to trade in goods and are compatible to the extent possible. Disciplines on technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) should build on and go beyond the respective WTO agreements. Specifically, the TBT disciplines should set out common principles in the fields of standardisation, technical regulations, conformity assessment, accreditation, market surveillance, metrology and labelling. The Parties should treat one another as single entities as regards SPS measures, including for certification purposes, and recognise regionalisation on the basis of appropriate epidemiological information provided by the exporting party.
And another is to be found in section XIV
“To that end, the Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters….”
The parties commit to “maintain environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards…. [and] should rely on appropriate and relevant Union and international standards, and include appropriate mechanisms to ensure effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement. The future relationship should also promote adherence to and effective implementation of relevant internationally agreed principles and rules in these domains, including the Paris Agreement.”
But it is not all about goods. Paragraph 25 provides “The Parties should conclude ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment in services and non-services sectors, respecting each Party’s right to regulate. The Parties should aim to deliver a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).” This will aim for substantial sectoral coverage in line with GATT article 5.
Maritime transport is mentioned at para which provides “The future relationship should facilitate cooperation on maritime safety and security, including exchange of information between the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and the United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), consistent with the United Kingdom’s status as a third country.” There is no mention of the Rotterdam Rules.
There would be an independent arbitration process to deal with disputes under the new agreement but: “ The Parties indicate that should a dispute raise a question of interpretation of provisions or concepts of Union law, which may also be indicated by either Party, the arbitration panel should refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) as the sole arbiter of Union law, for a binding ruling as regards the interpretation of Union law. Conversely, there should be no reference to the CJEU where a dispute does not raise such a question.”
The new WA will have to obtain the approval of Parliament on Saturday, otherwise Mr Johnson will be required by law to seek an extension to 31 January under art.50. If the necessary letter is not sent, the Scottish Court of Session will reconvene on October 21 to decide whether it will sign a letter to the EU on Mr Johnson’s behalf.
In the meantime, expect a lot of phone calls by Mr Johnson to ‘our friends in the North’. Labour votes, or abstentions, are likely to be critical to getting the new deal through.