What next for Brexit after MPs back Boris Johnson’s deal?

Brexit passed a major hurdle yesterday that paved the way for Britain’s exit from the European Union to become a reality early next year.

British MPs voted to give the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill a majority of 124 at its second reading, putting Britain on course for its divorce from Brussels to be completed by the January 31 deadline.

With Boris Johnson, now armed with a post-election majority on the green benches, having successfully cleared his first Commons obstacle to passing his Withdrawal Agreement, here is a look at what comes next for Brexit.

– A new year, the same Brexit

Downing Street is understood to want the UK, ministers and MPs to have a break from any talk about Brexit over the Christmas recess.

But that will all change when they return on Tuesday January 7.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>MPs approve The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill giving it a second reading by 358 votes to 234 (PA/Commons)</figcaption>
MPs approve The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill giving it a second reading by 358 votes to 234 (PA/Commons)

The British Prime Minister is understood to want the Commons scrutiny process, which includes the committee and third reading stages, to be completed in only three days.

That will allow the Brexit Bill to go to the House of Lords where it is expected peers will debate the legislation for two weeks before MPs review any amendments and the draft legislation can become law.

– The EU’s turn

Once Mr Johnson’s divorce bill is in the statute books, it will be MEPs’ turn to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the European Parliament.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>MEPs in the European Parliament will vote on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement (Jonathan Brady/PA)</figcaption>
MEPs in the European Parliament will vote on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement (Jonathan Brady/PA)

While many MEPs are against Britain’s decision to leave the EU, they are not likely to stand in the way of its progress.

After it passes the Brussels voting chamber, Britain will figuratively tear up its EU membership card and exit on the last day of January.

– Transition buffer

The early days and months of life in the UK post-Brexit will not feel all that different to what had gone before.

It will no longer be a member but, as part of the agreement to enter a transition period until December 31 2020, Britain will effectively remain in the single market and customs union but without having any say or influence over the rules.

– Trade talks

During this 11-month transition period, Mr Johnson's Brexit negotiating team – led by chief negotiator David Frost, who thrashed out the exit deal – will focus on knuckling down to trade talks with their EU counterparts.

There is much to finalise and very little time to do it in, especially after Mr Johnson changed his own Brexit Bill to make it unlawful for the Government to extend the transition period into 2021.

Critics, including EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, say the deadline is too tight and that Mr Johnson's move puts a no-deal Brexit back on the cards.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)</figcaption>
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The UK and EU will be looking to agree future relationships on a whole breadth of areas, from financial services to fisheries, as well as finalise the details for keeping Northern Ireland in the single market, in an unprecedented amount of time.

The talks will only have been made more combative after Mr Johnson, during his Commons speech yesterday, appeared to rule out aligning the UK to EU rules after Brexit.

An earlier deadline?

Even though the transition period ends at the end of 2020, commentators have pointed out that it looks to be a false deadline.

EU rules dictate that each member state must individually ratify new trade terms with a third country – which is what Britain will be after January 31 – meaning all 27 countries in the bloc will have to sign-up to what is finalised during the negotiations.

Such a process could take at least three months, making September the deadline for the trade talks rather than December.

A process that was tight for time at 11 months might well be cut down to only eight.