Brexit deal ratification – what would need to be done?

If a last-minute deal is reached – which has key implications for second home owners and British residents in France – there will be a race to complete final steps if it is to come into force by January 1

19 November 2020
By Liv Rowland

Today the EU’s leaders will meet in video conference and Brexit will be among the topics discussed – but there is still no final deal for them to talk about.

With time now very short, both sides still hope a deal can be reached in coming days.

However reportedly after further talks in Brussels this week they are still struggling to agree on fishing rights and the ‘level playing-field’ – referring to the UK signing up to maintain the same standards as the EU on matters such as environmental protections and worker rights or state aid to companies.

If a deal is reached – perhaps next week – the final text of a treaty would still need to be completed and translated into all the main EU languages, and a complex ratification process must take place if the measures are to be in force as hoped by January 1, the end of the Brexit transition period, when Brexit will apply fully.

UK negotiator David Frost has stated on Twitter than they now “largely have common draft treaty texts, though significant elements are of course not yet agreed”.

Ratification would be required by both the EU and UK.

Ratification by the EU

The European Commission, which has led the negotiations for the EU, will propose the deal is ratified. The text will then go through translation and final tidying.

It will then be voted on by the European Council, the EU’s heads or state and/or government meeting at a summit. The last scheduled summit for 2020 is on December 10-11.

It is likely it will need to vote unanimously to approve the deal, unless the final treaty was very bare bones and mostly focused on trade. In the latter case it could use qualified majority voting, requiring 55% of member states to support it, and representing at least 65% of the EU's population.

The European Parliament must also consent. Its last scheduled meeting is on December 14-17, however the deal would need to be considered in special committees before the Parliament votes on it. The committees will draft reports to the full parliament.

Some commentators fear a special sitting might have to be scheduled for the vote, perhaps as late as December 28. The parliament must approve it by a simple majority, with at least a third of MEPs present.

Finally the Council of the European Union must adopt a decision confirming the agreement which will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

It is still not known if national EU parliaments will also have to vote on the deal, and even regional assemblies in some countries such as Belgium, which is sometimes required in the case of wide-ranging treaties dealing with a mixture of matters.

It is thought that if this last step is required, as long as the deal has been approved by the European Council and Parliament, it could come into force ‘provisionally’, pending the votes of the national parliaments, though it is possible that certain provisions could be excluded from this.

So far no EU trade agreement has been rejected by the national parliaments, however this step has held them up in some cases. The EU-Canada deal, signed four years ago, is still only ‘provisional’. Experts are divided as to whether the deal could remain if any refused to ratify it.

What is needed in the UK?

Under UK law the government can ratify the treaty 21 days after it has laid it before parliament, if the MPs do not vote to delay it. However ministers may also decree that ‘exceptionally’ the treaty may be ratified regardless of this rule.

What is more likely to delay matters is that the UK does not ratify treaties until any legislation implementing them is in place.

There are several ways this could be completed, the fastest being passing a bill giving the agreement direct effect in UK law.

Previous articles

We're getting closer to a deal - former ambassador to France

Good progress in 'intensified' talks

Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now