The bill, officially called the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), has passed all its stages in Parliament and been given Royal Assent. This now turns Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, which is a draft international treaty, into UK law and gives the Government permission to ratify and implement it.
So what is in the WAB?
The 106-page bill is broken up into five parts, covering the basics of the UK’s departure from the EU.
These five parts are under the headings: Implementation Period; Remaining Implementation Of Withdrawal Agreement Etc; Citizens’ Rights; Other Subject Areas; General And Final Provision.
Crucially, the WAB sets out an 11-month transition period during which the UK and EU must conduct intense and robust negotiations to formulate the future relationship between the two.
During the transition period, the UK will remain essentially an EU member, so no immediate changes will be felt by the public, although no UK representatives will sit in EU institutions.
Brexit deal explained: The Prime Minister tweeted this image of the bill signing
Here is a summary of some key points within the WAB which could impact the general public:
The WAB sets out how the UK will make “divorce bill” payments – estimated to be around £30 billion in total – in instalments to the EU for years to come.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimated the bulk of this sum will be paid by 2022, with some small payments still being made into the 2060s.
This will form part of the Treasury’s budget, meaning less spending on public services until cleared.
Brexit deal explained: The European Union flag and the British Union Jack waving in front of the European Parliament in Brussels
The WAB repeals the European Communities Act, which took the UK into the EU, but then reinstates it immediately until the end of 2020 when the transition period ends.
So essentially, the UK will remain an EU member until the end of the year with no noticeable changes.
However, it also prohibits any extension to the transition period belong the end of 2020, even if a trade deal hasn’t yet been reached.
This means that if, come January 1 2021, the EU and UK still haven’t been able to negotiate a free trade deal which protects interests on both sides, the prospect of a no deal exit will return.
This has a potentially wide-ranging knock-on effect for the public – you can read more about what a no deal Brexit means here.
The WAB sets out the rights of the three-million-plus EU citizens who are expected to have permanent residence in the UK after Brexit.
EU citizens’ rights will still be protected by European Law.
The bill states that UK courts will be able to refer disputes over EU citizens’ rights to the European Court of Justice for eight years after the end of the transition period.
The WAB also sets up an independent monitoring authority (IMA) with which EU nationals in the UK can lodge any complaints about the way the government treats them.
The IMA will also report on whether the Home Office is meeting its obligations to EU nationals.
Brexit deal explained: Boris Johnson in Parliament as MPs approved the bill
The WAB sets out the already-announced principle that rights which currently come from EU law, such as the working time directive, will still have effect in UK law.
In the longer term, the bill makes vague commitments to “non-regression” – that the position on workers’ rights at the end of the transition period will not be reduced in later laws.
The bill states that when ministers introduce legislation in this area, they must make a statement on whether the bill is compatible with the non-regression principle.
Brexit deal explained: The Irish border has proven by far the most contentious portion of the bill
By far the most contentious portion of the bill since its infancy under Theresa May, the WAB contains numerous paragraphs setting out arrangements for Northern Ireland – the only part of the UK which shares a land border with the EU.
Essentially, the WAB – which has seen May’s ‘Brexit backstop’ removed’ – provides the legislative underpinning for how, after Brexit, a customs and regulatory border will exist between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.
This means some goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would be subject to checks and pay EU import taxes (tariffs).
The plan was formulated to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but poses problems of creating a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which has been strongly criticised by some.
The bill sees Northern Ireland remaining subject to EU customs regimes, and “no alteration of North-South co-operation”.
The WAB seeks to protect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, and retains EU law for Ireland at the end of the implementation period.
However, the WAB also gives UK Ministers wide-ranging power to amend or repeal laws as they put in place the new Northern Ireland trade arrangement, without having to seek Parliamentary approval.