As the UK embarks upon leaving the EU via Boris Johnson’s amended version of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which removes the Irish backstop that became a sore point for many Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, it is important to analyse what does and does not change for Britain at 12am on February 1st.
The whole of the UK will leave the EU’s customs union. This means that Britain can start forging trade deals with countries that have been keen to negotiate one with the UK since June 23rd 2016. These nations include Australia, New Zealand and the US.
In practice, goods won’t be checked at ‘points of entry’ on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Taxes will only have to be paid on items deemed ‘at risk.’ The British Government would have to refund any taxes on items labelled as risky, though a joint committee will determine at a later date which products should be classed as dangerous.
For Northern Ireland, much will not change in the short-term as they would have to keep to EU, as opposed to British rules, on goods.
However, the Stormont Assembly would be able to vote on these arrangements four years after the end of the transition period.
Furthermore, EU law on VAT will apply to Northern Ireland, but only on goods, not services. Yet they could have different VAT rates to the rest of the UK.
Although many pro-Brexit MPs complained that the original Withdrawal Agreement did not ensure Britain leaves the EU immediately, the Prime Minister eventually discovered that it was the best deal he was going to get in the short-term, and that removing the backstop would be the only way for it to be acceptable to both sides of the Tory Party. This is why Boris’s agreement will also retain the status quo in many ways.
Britain will have to abide by EU rules and pay into the bloc’s budget until the end of December 2020. But because the UK will not be a member of any European institutions, it will have no say over how the club is run.
Also, freedom of movement will remain until December 2020, and EU citizens will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.
Passports will still be valid to travel throughout the world if they have six months of validity remaining on them.
The true impact of leaving the EU will not be felt until the end of the year when both sides have either succeeded or failed to draft a free trade deal. Whilst there are many advantages to Brexit, Leave’s victory was based on a narrow margin as many Remainers feared the economic impact of leaving the bloc, and the failure to conclude a deal will have consequences.
In such an event, many have argued Britain would have to face the EU’s external tariffs and this could lead to delays at the border. But Brexit Central’s Edgar Miller argues this is pure scaremongering as the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and the Kyoto Convention of the World Customs Organisation commit the EU and all 187 WTO countries to making border processing activities as streamlined as possible.
Yet the border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland would then remain unresolved and neither side intends to implement any physical infrastructure post-Brexit. Simon Clarke MP suggested a hard border would not be legal under the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation, which allows for technological arrangements to prevent two countries from erecting a ‘hard’ border.
If both parties fail to agree on a trade deal, they need to work hard to dispel the myths that a no-deal Brexit would be the disaster many Remainers predict, and there is scope within the WTO to ensure this outcome would be as smooth as possible for both London and Brussels.