Brexit vote: What just happened and what comes next?
It's fair to say the coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news cycle this year, so you could be forgiven for
wondering what's happening with Brexit. Well, the UK's departure from the European Union is now fully back
on the agenda after a big day of developments in London.
What happened in the UK parliament?
On Monday, the House of Commons voted on a controversial new bill published by the government.
It's worth noting that the UK is currently in a period known as the transition, that keeps it bound to the EU's
rules until 31 December. The two sides are trying to negotiate a new trade deal that would come into effect
once this period ends, but talks have reached a standstill.
So, on a basic level, the government's new Internal Market Bill seeks to prevent disruption to trade between
the four nations of the UK if no deal is reached with the EU. The government has described it as
a "vital legal safety net".
Why has the bill been criticised?
There are a few reasons. In fact, the bill has even attracted criticism from senior figures in the governing
Conservative Party and former prime ministers. This is because it seeks to overrule parts of the Brexit deal
between the UK and the EU that came into effect in January.
That deal, known as the withdrawal agreement, is a fully fledged international treaty. It is a legal agreement.
A key part of that deal is the agreement that Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules even
after Brexit happens. This is designed to prevent a hard border returning between Northern Ireland
(which is in the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU).
But the latest bill would go against the withdrawal agreement - and therefore international law - by allowing
UK ministers to "disapply" previously agreed rules relating to Northern Ireland if there is no trade deal with
This is why one government minister recently admitted that the bill would "break international law" in
a "specific and limited way", prompting a barrage of criticism and even some resignations.
Why does it matter?
The UK and the EU are now in the closing weeks of negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal, with informal
talks taking place in Brussels this week. But the controversy over this bill is threatening to derail
the discussions which are already deadlocked, with time running out.
"Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our
future relationship," the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said last week.
There are many new stories to follow here. : pg
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