Speaker Bercow deals another blow to PM Johnson’s EU deal proposal

UK Government will table its Brexit legislation late this evening and on Tuesday a crucial vote will be taken on the future of the UK in the EU. This development will come following the action taken by Commons Speaker John Bercow who, clamorously, blocked PM Boris Johnson’s attempt on a ‘meaningful vote’ as a curtain raiser for this proposed legislation. Johnson had hoped that he would drum up the necessary support to clinch the deal. Bercow however, announced that he would not allow a straight yes/no vote on the deal citing a rule that says that the MPs cannot vote on the same motion twice.

On Saturday, Boris Johnson convened a historic sitting of parliament on Saturday – its first since 1982 – to have the so-called “meaningful vote” on his deal. But it was amended by MPs who want all the deal passed into law first to stop an accidental no-deal on 31 October.

That meant the issue had already been “decided”, Mr Bercow said, adding debating it again would be “repetitive and disorderly” and that he would not let parliament be “continually bombarded”.

Bercow’s decision may seem controversial but in effect it follows common procedure in the Houses of Parliament. If however, PM Johnson fails to pass the legislation on Tuesday, he may run so far out of options that he may have to call an election in the coming days.

So, what’s new with Boris Johnson’s deal?

Regulations

Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the single market on goods, but checks and procedures will take place at ports and airports, and not at the border. This means UK authorities will have responsibility for applying the EU rules in Northern Ireland.

Customs

Northern Ireland will be part of the UK’s customs territory, ensuring it will be included in any future trade deal struck between the UK government and the EU. But the region is still going to be an entry point to the EU’s customs zone. UK authorities will apply UK tariffs to products entering Northern Ireland as long as they are not destined to go across the border and into Ireland. In other words, no EU tariffs on goods going from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland.

There won’t be any tariffs on personal goods carried by travellers across the Irish frontier. The UK will collect EU tariffs on behalf of the bloc for goods at risk of entering the single market. An EU-UK joint committee will be formed to define a second group of exempted goods which will be those for immediate consumption rather than subsequent processing.

VAT

EU rules on VAT (value added tax) and excise duties will apply in Northern Ireland, but the UK will have to collect them. Revenues derived will be retained by the UK. The UK can also apply VAT exemptions and reduced rates in Northern Ireland that are applied in Ireland.

Consent

Stormont Assembly (Irish) members will vote on whether to continue to apply the arrangements after an initial four-year period when they come into effect at the start of 2021. The vote will be a simple majority head count at Stormont, and won’t require the support of a majority of unionists and nationalists under the contentious “petition of concern mechanism”. The DUP will not have the opportunity to exercise a veto. If the vote is carried, the arrangements will be extended for four years.

But if it turns out a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists voted in favour of the move, and therefore gave cross-party support, then they will continue for eight years instead. If members vote to come out of the EU arrangements, there will be a two-year cooling off period before it happens.

Future deal

The aim is to have a free-trade agreement after Brexit, with no tariffs and unlimited quotas.

The sides also hope to uphold high standards on environment, climate and workers’ rights, among other things.

Political Declaration

A crucial motivation for Boris Johnson in negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement has been the desire to give the UK the freedom to secure free trade agreements with the rest of the world.

The new Political Declaration sets out the broad direction for the future relationship with the EU, with both sides committing to a “comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement” with “zero tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions” between the two sides.

If approved, that would remove the tariff issue from GB-Northern Ireland trade, but the UK appears to have compromised significantly on the so-called “level playing-field” – the requirement to stick close to EU regulations of goods and thus avoid the UK gaining what might be seen as an unfair advantage in future trade competition.