What Parliament Is Voting On—and Why It Isn’t the Whole Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Unlike the government’s first two failed attempts, the House of Commons is on Friday only voting on one half of the Brexit deal that was sealed with the EU in November.

The part that is being voted on:

  • It’s a 585-page legally binding withdrawal treaty that deals with unraveling the UK’s 46-year membership of the bloc, protects the rights of EU citizens already in the U.K., signs the government up to paying an estimated 39 billion pounds ($51 billion) in past commitments and sets out a transition period until the end of 2020 at the earliest
  • Includes the “backstop” arrangement that would prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, which has proved to be the most contentious part of the deal because it keeps the U.K. wedded to EU customs rules until a alternative solution is found
  • Says nothing about the relationship between the U.K. and the EU after Brexit has happened
  • Comes with some bolt-ons, produced since November, aimed at reassuring the U.K. that the EU isn’t seeking to trap the country in the backstop and will negotiate a full trade deal rapidly. It stops short though of giving the U.K. a unilateral exit as critics in Parliament demanded

The second part, not being voted on Friday:

  • Is a 26-page document that sets out how the two sides view their future relationship in areas such as trade and economic and security cooperation. It’s meant to form the basis of negotiations to start straight after Brexit
  • Doesn’t guarantee or rule out any future model. It was kept intentionally vague to convince members of parliament of any persuasion to vote for the withdrawal agreement and allow them to argue about the rest after the U.K. has left
  • Could change. The EU says it’s willing to alter -- either dilute or beef up -- this political declaration before the U.K. leaves if the withdrawal agreement is passed on Friday

If the vote passes on Friday, the EU has given the U.K. until May 22 to remain a member to tie up loose ends. This would require Parliament to formally approve both parts before the U.K. leaves. U.K. law requires the political declaration to be passed before exit day.

If the vote doesn’t pass, the EU says the U.K. has two weeks to present a way forward. This could include opting to remain in the bloc until next year or leaving without a deal.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.