The news that the unamendable locked down Withdrawal Agreement Treaty has been amended, might surprise you – but it has.
How many times have we heard that the Withdrawal Agreement Treaty between the UK and the EU cannot be changed? It remains locked shut says the EU.
Well, believe it or not, the EU came forward in May and June with a set of proposed amendments to the Agreement and the UK okayed a few of them through the Joint Committee that Michael Gove co-chairs with the EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic.
And this came about from a meeting of the EU Council that decided on the 10 June 2020 to get their side to put these proposals through the Joint Committee.
So, not as locked tight as some might have been led to believe.
And this is the procedure that those opposed to the clauses that Boris Johnson has put in the UK Internal Market Bill, seem to want to force the UK to use.
But the powers to amend the Treaty using this procedure are very limited in nature.
Under Article 164(5) of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Joint Committee may:
“… until the end of the fourth year following the end of the transition period, adopt decisions amending this Agreement, provided that such amendments are necessary to correct errors, to address omissions or other deficiencies, or to address situations unforeseen when this Agreement was signed, and provided that such decisions may not amend the essential elements of this Agreement …”
Now, the ten or so amendments that the UK agreed to are very minor and carry, as far as we’re told, no consequence for the UK.
And that’s because most changes appear to be tidying up exercises. Such as removing any reference to the year 2019, as we left in 2020.
But the unamended version is still the one displayed on the .gov website.
But the UK also, as far as the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee is aware, refused to agree a dozen or so other changes. And these changes all involved the Irish Border Protocol.
Part of those changes proposed by the EU was to add eight more pieces of legislation that would apply to Northern Ireland only after the end of the Brexit Implementation Period.
This covered things like single-use plastic bags, rules for a ‘common lot identification system’ for foodstuffs, the marketing of seed and fodder plant, ornamental plant propagation, narcotics, the import of archaeological items after 2025 and governing the activation of the safeguard mechanisms the EU has negotiated in its trade agreements with certain non-EU countries (Singapore, Japan and Vietnam).
And looking at that list that Brussels tried to slide past us; you can see they could be quite far-reaching and intrusive where treating Northern Ireland as a part of the UK and its internal market are concerned.
And they look to me to be outside the scope that the Joint Committee could agree to anyway.
On top of that, the EU also wanted to add three new explanatory notes into the protocol. These explanatory notes would ‘clarify’ how to apply some of the EU rules that were already on the list for Northern Ireland.
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Brexit: the Withdrawal Agreement has been amended