Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Theresa May's new 10-point 'last chance' plan explained

Harriet Brewis
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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Theresa May's new 10-point 'last chance' plan explained

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill: Theresa May's new 10-point 'last chance' plan explained

Theresa May has unveiled her new ten-point Brexit plan to MPs, insisting it is the “one last chance” to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum.

Politicians from across of the political spectrum disagree with the British Prime Minister and say they will not vote for the revised plan, with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn describing it as a "rehash of her old bad deal".

The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) is the legally binding part of the Brexit deal that covers exit terms – including money, the transition period, citizens' rights and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

If the WAB passes when it is put to a vote in the House of Commons in early June – bringing the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU into UK law – then Brexit could happen before the 31 October deadline.

But what are the ten points of the PM’s new 100-page WAB? And does the PM’s last-ditch attempt at a deal have any chance of getting through Parliament?

1. Alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop

What is it? A pledge to conclude fresh arrangements for the Northern Irish border by December 2020 – most likely using technology – to ensure the controversial backstop never needs to be used.

What will it mean? The plan commits the government to avoid implementing a hard border in Northern Ireland, even if there is no customs union.

Who will it convince? It is aimed to please Tory Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but many have already accused the alternative arrangements of being too vague. Plus, there is no guarantee that the EU will approve them even if the UK does.

2. Keeping Great Britain aligned with Northern Ireland

What is it? A promise that Northern Ireland will stay aligned with the rest of the UK on regulations and custom, even if the backstop does come into force.

What will it mean? It confirms that the UK and Northern Ireland won’t be separated by a border in the Irish Sea.

Who will it convince? Again, it is aimed to please the DUP and Tory Brexiteers but it already seems to hold little weight with them.

3. MPs’ approval on “negotiating objectives and final treaties”

What is it? An assurance to MPs that they have the final say on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

What will it mean? MPs will be given the power to set terms for the next phase of talks with the EU and will get a vote on whether or not to approve the final deal.

Who will it convince? It is intended to please a broad range of MPs by guaranteeing they will play a major role in the final negotiations. However, it was already expected to be included in the bill so is unlikely to win over any new supporters.

4. Workers’ Rights Bill

What is it? A guarantee that employment rights in the UK will not lag behind those in the EU.

What will it mean? Pensions, holiday pay and minimum redundancy terms will be no less favourable than those of workers in the EU after Brexit.

Who will it convince? It is aimed at Labour MPs in Leave seats but, given that it has already been promised several times, it is unlikely to turn many new heads.

5. Environmental standards protection

What is it? A pledge that the UK will see no change in the level of environmental protection after Brexit.

What will it mean? Environmental standards will not fall behind the EU’s, with a new independent watchdog, the Office of Environmental Protection, introduced to enforce it.

Who will it convince? It is geared at Labour MPs and green-minded Tories. However, the promised watchdog is the only aspect of the bill which presents something new.

6. Frictionless trade

What is it? A promise to seek “as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement”.

What will it mean? The end of EU citizens’ automatic right to work in the UK – Mrs May’s central pledge.

Who will it convince? It is aimed at reassuring Tory and Labour MPs for whom free movement is a big electoral issue, but ultimately represents a reiteration of the PMs longstanding commitments – so nothing new.

7. Just-in time supply chains

What is it? A guarantee to match EU rules for goods and agrifood products that might otherwise face border checks.

What will it mean? It will minimise checks at UK ports on goods being exported into the EU by UK companies thus avoiding excess delays for businesses. It will also protect thousands of jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains.

Who will it convince? It is geared at Labour MPs in Leave seats who are worried about Brexit’s economic disruption, but some will question whether it can be delivered.

8. A ‘customs compromise’

What is it? MPs will be given a binding vote on post-Brexit customs arrangements

What will it mean? MPs will be given a binding vote on whether there should be a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit, a temporary one, or Mrs May’s “custom arrangements”.

Who will it convince? Some Tory MPs dislike the prospect of even a temporary customs union, while Labour MPs want a permanent one, which is still unlikely to be approved.

9. Second referendum

What is it? A guarantee of a Commons vote on whether the final deal should be subject to a referendum.

What will it mean? The PM is giving in – she opposed s a second referendum but is committing to giving MPs a vote on one.

Who will it convince? It is aimed to please MPs who insist the UK should only leave the EU after a second public vote. However, many want a full guarantee of a new public vote, while opponents resent the concession.

10. Changes to political declaration

What is it? A “legal duty” to secure the necessary changes to the political declaration to reflect the new deal.

What will it mean? The political declaration will shape the future negotiations with the EU, but it does not carry the same weight as the withdrawal agreement, which the EU will not reopen.

Who will it convince? MPs worried that a future prime minister will tear the new offer as they would not necessarily be constrained by the political declaration.