By High Commissioner Stephen Lillie
As I mentioned last week, EU leaders have now agreed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the UK-EU future partnership. The withdrawal agreement offers security for British nationals living in Cyprus whilst the political declaration provides a good basis for maintaining and enhancing trade and ongoing security cooperation.
The focus now is very much on the parliamentary process for ratifying the overall Brexit deal. So – for our final column in the Cyprus Mail, we thought it would be helpful to outline the next steps that are due to take place in order for the withdrawal agreement and political declaration to be made into legally binding agreements.
Final vote and UK parliamentary process
As you may know, parliament must vote to approve both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, which sets out the framework for our future relationship with the EU, before the withdrawal agreement can be ratified. This process is often described as the UK parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’. There will need to be several days of parliamentary time to debate the withdrawal agreement before the vote, which is expected to take place on December 11.
Once parliament votes in favour, the government will bring forward a withdrawal agreement and implementation bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect. The final set of parliamentary requirements for ratification of the withdrawal agreement are set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. This gives parliament a further opportunity to scrutinise the withdrawal agreement before it is ratified. All this needs to be completed before the UK leaves the EU on March 29, 2019. If you want to read more about the ‘meaningful vote’ and UK parliamentary process you can read a detailed briefing on the UK parliament’s website here: https://bit.ly/2raDuZi
It is important to understand that the choice parliament will have to make is binary. Parliament will have to either accept Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal or reject it. Parliament does not have the ability to ask the PM to re-negotiate the deal. If parliament votes against the prime minister’s deal, then the withdrawal agreement – including the transition period (from March 30, 2019 until December 31, 2020) cannot be legally ratified and will cause significant uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens. The UK government remains confident that parliament will approve both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. You can access all the key documents including the withdrawal agreement, the political declaration and other material on the newly developed Brexit Deal Explained website: https://bit.ly/2zyD1od
European parliamentary vote
In addition to the UK parliament, the European parliament will also need to consent by simple majority to the withdrawal agreement. The rules state that the withdrawal agreement will need to be adopted by the European parliament by a vote of a “strong qualified majority”. This is defined as 20 countries representing 65 per cent of the EU27 population. Given that EU leaders from the other EU27 member states have already consented to the withdrawal agreement, we are confident that the European parliament will also ratify the agreement.
After the withdrawal agreement has been ratified by both the UK and EU parliaments, the UK and EU Commission will re-enter negotiations to translate the political declaration into legally binding agreements. It will be important for these negotiations to begin as soon as possible after the withdrawal agreement comes into force to ensure the future relationship can take effect by the end of 2020. During the transition period we can therefore expect regular UK-EU dialogues and high-level political summits where the prime minister and EU leaders will be able to announce decisions that have been made about some of the finer detail concerning our future relationship with the EU.
It is during this period of negotiations that some of the questions we’ve been asked at outreach events, for example, on the status of UK nationals living in Cyprus or in any other EU member state after 2020, will be decided. Of course, we will keep you abreast of developments during this time.
Staying in touch
I hope you have found our column helpful in keeping you abreast of Brexit news. We are very grateful to the Cyprus Mail for giving us the platform. We hope we have been able to provide clarity and it has certainly helped us to better understand your key concerns. Thank you to all the organisations we collaborated with in Oroklini, Limassol, Paralimni, Paphos and Peiya and to the Civil Registry and Migration Department for their participation at our outreach events. Our last meeting before Christmas is on Monday, December 3 from 11:00 until 13:00 at St Pauls Anglican Cathedral Parish Hall in Nicosia.
After Christmas, we will continue to keep you informed of Brexit-related developments including through our UKinCyprus Facebook page https://facebook.com/ukincyprus/ and our Living in Cyprus guide https://www.gov.uk/guidance/living-in-cyprus. If you have specific Brexit questions please continue to send them to us at [email protected] and we will do our best to give you clarity.