Does UK's October 15 Brexit deadline still stand?

In September the UK’s prime minister said both sides should ‘accept it and move on’ if there was no agreement by this date

9 October 2020
By Liv Rowland

October 15 has previously been spoken of as a crunch point for the Brexit future relationship talks – but does that still stand?

In September the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that both sides should “accept it and move on” if there was no agreement by that point, saying “if we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us”.

The date is significant because it marks the start of a two-day European Council summit (meeting of the heads of the EU states), the last scheduled this year before December 10-11.

That date is now approaching fast, however in the weeks since the statement the position has become more flexible, notably following a phone call between Mr Johnson and EU Commission President Usula von der Leyen last weekend.

Since then, and the end of the ninth and last formal scheduled negotiation round last week, informal negotiations have been ongoing in London this week and will continue in Brussels next week.

Even so, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said this week he still wants clarity by October 15 as to whether a deal is possible or not, because businesses need to prepare.

The EU has in the past repeatedly stated that a deal – and a drafted treaty – is needed by the end of October allowing two months for ratification procedures so that it may be in force by January 1, 2021, the end of the transition period.

News agency Reuters stated this week that ‘EU diplomats' said the EU was now prepared for negotiations into mid-November if necessary, however a spokesman for the Commission told The Connexion he had “no specific comment to make on deadlines”, only that there needs to be “enough time at the end to allow the European Parliament and the Council to have their say”.

The EU’s leaders will certainly next week assess the level of progress and the likelihood of a deal. If they believe there is enough progress on such key areas as fishing, state aid to business and the UK’s alignment with EU standards on matters like working rights and environmental protection (the ‘level-playing field’) it is expected they will authorise a final ‘tunnel’ of intensive talks. 

Mr Johnson said on Sunday he did not wish for the transition period to end with no deal, but “we can more than live with it” and European Council President Charles Michel said this week they would not accept a deal "at any cost".

'No-deal' cannot be excluded 

On Wednesday European Commision Vice-President Maros Sefcovic told the European Parliament: “Our negotiators were instructed to work as hard as they can to try to finalise an agreement. Michel Barnier and his team have, as always, our full trust. But time is short.

“In case we reach an agreement, which is our objective, both parties will have to ensure ratification in time for an entry into force by January 1, 2021, and this will need some time, including time for this house.

“If this is not the case, we will be in the ‘no-deal’ territory. Given that we are less than 100 days away from this date, we cannot exclude this scenario. This is why we will continue to work with you and the member states to ensure that we are ready for every scenario.

"This is a delicate moment for Europe. The Brexit deadline looms. The pandemic is still with us. It is a moment of uncertainty, so it must be the moment of unity.”

It is important to note that at this stage 'no-deal' only refers to no 'future relationship' deal, on trade, police and judicial cooperation etc.

The current talks also affect matters such as ongoing reciprocal healthcare for visitors such as second home owners, however they do not affect the rights of Britons living in France as residents before the end of this year, whose rights were settled under the 'Withdrawal Agreement' deal at the start of the year.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier has now asked the 27 states to look for a compromise position on fishing, in order to help break the impasse, French news agency AFP reported yesterday, quoting 'diplomatic sources'.

However it came as France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune told journalists yesterday during a trip to the Netherlands: “Our fishermen will not be a Brexit bargaining chip, they should not pay the costs of the choices of the British.”

What is involved in ratification?

Once all controversial areas have been agreed upon, it will be necessary to finalise a treaty text. A ratification process is then indispensible before it can come into force.

A House of Commons Library briefing paper published on September 1 stated that the EU would prefer to have an agreed legal text by the start of October, to allow time for “legal and linguistic revisions”, and that the EU envisaged that political approval for the agreement could then be given by EU heads of state and government at the summit on October 15-16 – deadlines which have now been missed.

However the paper noted that if necessary, a special one-off EU summit could be called to give this political approval.

The ratification process then requires an EU Commission proposal for a decision by the EU’s Council of Ministers.

Once approved by the Council, the deal would then be send to the European Parliament, which the briefing paper estimated would be in mid-November, with the parliament needing to consent to it, probably with a December vote.

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