UK Government approach to the withdrawal from the European Union under Johnson administration

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Publication Date July to October 2019
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Feature bringing together reports and analyses on the approach adopted by the government led by Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom when it came to the country's withdrawal from the European Union (also known as Brexit).

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Boris Johnson became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 24 July 2019, following a leadership contest within the UK Conservative Party. As a result of the campaign led by Mr Johnson as a leadership candidate, the cabinet adopted as its policy to leave the European Union (EU) by 31 October 2019, in whichever conditions. The Prime Minister stated the intention to engage in negotiations with the EU for an alternative to the so-called 'backstop' mechanism designed under the previous cabinet to guarantee frictionless trade in the island of Ireland, and included in an Withdrawal Agreement, which faced opposition in Parliament for months. Even so, many analysts warned against the increasing inevitability of a scenario in which the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU without an agreement (also known as no-deal scenario).

Throughout August, the Government announced the UK was no longer going to attend non-essential EU-level meetings to focus on Brexit preparations in the country. The country's home secretary also warned that freedom of movement would end the next day following withdrawal in case of a no-deal scenario, sparking criticism and some panic among EU citizens living in the United Kingdom.

In a controversial decision, it was announced on 28 August that the Government was seeking the prorogation (or suspension) of the Parliament in September and October 2019. The proposal was quickly approved by the Queen. The move was widely interpreted as a way to make it harder for Parliament - known to feature a majority against a no-deal scenario - to act against the cabinet's policy regarding Brexit, as also sparked a number of protests on the streets across the country.

On 3 September, members of Parliament (MPs) voted to take control of House of Commons business - a number of Conservative MPs backed the proposal and were thrown out of the party as a result. The move would allow MPs to put forward a bill aimed at forcing Mr Johnson to ask to delay the withdrawal from the EU until at least 31 January 2020 in order to avoid a no-deal exit. The government also lost its working majority in Parliament, following a defection from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats. On the following day, the Parliament approved the bill ordering the Prime Minister to request a further extension beyond 31 October in case of a no-deal scenario. The Government also put forward a proposal for a general election to be held before the end of October, which was rejected by the House of Commons over fears it could lead to a no-deal scenario.

On 16 September, Mr Johnson met the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker for the first time to take stock of the technical talks between the EU and the UK and to discuss the next steps. Sources from both sides had contradicting views on the state of negotiations towards alternatives to the already agreed Withdrawal Agreement. Following a meeting with Luxembourg's Prime Minister on that same day, Mr Johnson refused to attend a joint press conference due to noisy protests held outside the venue of the meeting.

The European Parliament approved on 18 September a resolution setting out its position relating to the state of play of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union. This was preceded by a debate at the plenary session.

On 24 September, the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Prime Minister's decision to request the suspension of Parliament for five weeks was unlawful. The Parliament was therefore never suspended. Members of Parliament returned to the chamber on the following day.

The UK Government unveiled on 2 October its proposal for a new protocol on the issue around the land border in the island of Ireland, which would replace the backstop solution included in the deal previously negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union. While media sources suggested that a majority in the UK Parliament could be within reach, the proposal was not met with enthusiasm elsewhere across the European Union.

A number of technical meetings were held between the EU and the United Kingdom ahead of a European Council summit, seen as the last chance for an agreement before the Brexit deadline. On 17 October, both sides announced an agreement over a revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. This was endorsed by the European Council on the same day. A further extension of Article 50 was also requested by the United Kingdom, setting a new date for 31 January (but with a possibility of an earlier exit). The Decision was adopted by the European Council on 29 October.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) was approved in second reading by the House of Commons on 22 October, but the government lost a vote on the timetable of the bill as MPs wished to have more time to discuss and analyse the impact of the revised agreement. The government decided to freeze the process and instead push for a general election. A motion under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act for an election was rejected on 28 October (two thirds majority required), but a short bill setting a general election for 12 December 2019 was eventually approved by the House of Commons on the following day.

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Commentary and Analysis
Euro|topics, July 2019: Hardline Brexiteers take over in London
Institute for Government: Blog, 26/07/2019: The EU won’t alter the Brexit reality for Boris Johnson
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The Conversation, 31/07/2019: Dominic Cummings: Boris Johnson’s new adviser will relish his controversial status
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The Economist, 08/08/2019: Can Parliament stop no-deal?
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Foreign Policy, 09/08/2019: Don’t Blame Boris for the Brexit Backstop Impasse
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Institute for Government: Blog, 19/08/2019: The government’s new no-deal Brexit immigration plan looks undeliverable
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Euro|topics, August 2019: Brexit: should the EU stick to the backstop?
The Conversation, 22/08/2019: Boris Johnson’s dramatic immigration u-turn leaves 2.5m uncertain of their future
The Conversation, 22/08/2019: Boris Johnson must change his negotiating tactics to avoid no-deal Brexit – EU treaty-making experts
Institute for Government: Blog, 23/08/2019: Boris Johnson’s European tour has not altered the reality of Brexit
Euro|topics, August 2019: The quest for a Brexit breakthrough
Institute for Government: Blog, 28/08/2019: Boris Johnson’s prorogation plans may convince his Brexit opponents to act now
Foreign Policy, 28/08/2019: King Johnson vs. Parliament
The Conversation, 28/08/2019: Boris Johnson suspends parliament: what does it mean for Brexit and why are MPs so angry?
Politico, 28/08/2019: Boris Johnson vs. parliament
The Conversation, 29/08/2019: Why the queen said yes to Boris Johnson’s request to suspend Parliament
The Economist, 29/08/2019: How Parliament can stop Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexit
The Conversation, 29/08/2019: Is Boris Johnson’s parliamentary prorogation constitutional? How to understand the UK system
Foreign Policy, 29/08/2019: Shutting Down Parliament Is Worse Than a Coup. It’s a Mistake.
Foreign Policy, 29/08/2019: The Queen Can’t Do Anything About Brexit
Spiegel Online International, 30/08/2019: Johnson's Brexit Gambit Puts Queen in a Tight Spot
Foreign Policy, 30/08/2019: Britain Can’t Afford the Queen’s Weakness Anymore
Euro|topics, September 2019: Is Johnson destroying British democracy?
Politico, 02/09/2019: My trip down the Brexit Party rabbit hole
Institute for Government: Blog, 02/09/2019: The Brexit battle is fundamentally changing the constitution
The Conversation 03/09/2019: Boris Johnson to seek UK general election – but purging his party of rebels changes the rules of the game
Euro|topics, September 2019: Brexit power struggle: rebellion against PM Johnson
The Conversation 04/09/2019: Boris Johnson’s move to purge 21 no-deal Brexit rebels will have electoral consequences
Euro|topics, September 2019: Commons passes bill against no-deal Brexit
The Conversation, 05/09/2019: How Brexit uncertainty is hurting the UK economy – in four charts
The Guardian, 16/09/2019: Bettel's anger highlights a bleak truth: the EU27 just wants Britain to go
BBC News, 17/09/2019: What does 'podiumgate' say about chances of a deal?
ECFR: Publications, 17/09/2019: Trick or treat? French and German views on ‘Brextension’
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Spiegel Online International, 01/10/2019: Can Boris Johnson Secure a Last-Minute Brexit Deal?
BBC News, 02/10/2019: How does the border plan differ from the backstop?
New Statesman, 02/10/2019: Are the DUP taking a risk with Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans?
The Economist, 02/10/2019: Boris Johnson makes the EU an offer it can refuse
The Conversation, 02/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan: what his party conference speech revealed
The Conversation, 02/10/2019: How to understand Boris Johnson’s conference speech
UK in a Changing Europe, 03/10/2019: Johnson’s Brexit proposal: something old, something new, something blue
Institute for Government: Blog, 03/10/2019: The four flaws in Boris Johnson’s proposals for a rewritten Brexit deal
UK in a Changing Europe: Analysis, 04/10/2019: A territorial perspective on the UK proposals to replace the backstop
Euro|topics, October 2019: Will Johnson find a way out of the Brexit impasse?
The Conversation, 17/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal: what’s in it and how is it different to Theresa May’s version?
Open Europe: Blog, 17/10/2019: What’s new about the new Brexit deal? An explainer
Deutsche Welle, 17/10/2019: Brexit once again, with feeling
Euro|topics, October 2019: New Brexit deal: mission accomplished for Johnson?
Institute for Government: Blog, 18/10/2019: Parliament braced for battle as another Brexit deal arrives in Westminster
Institute for Government: Blog, 19/10/2019: The UK requests another Brexit delay – it's now up to the EU to determine the terms
The Conversation, 20/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s three letters to Brussels: what do they mean for Brexit?
BBC News, 21/10/2019: Brexit: What is in Boris Johnson's new deal with the EU?
Institute for Government: Blog, 21/10/2019: Seven flashpoints in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill
Hansard Society: Parliament and Brexit in Autumn 2019: a constitutional and procedural guide
Euro|topics, October 2019: Another Brexit postponement?
Politico, 22/10/2019: Brexit limbo strikes again
BBC News, 22/10/2019: What is the Withdrawal Agreement Bill?
Institute for Government: Blog, 22/10/2019: The government's timetable is designed to frustrate Brexit scrutiny
The UK in Changing a Europe: Analysis, 23/10/2019: Withdrawal Agreement Bill: serious, complicated and requiring thorough scrutiny
The UK in Changing a Europe: Analysis, 24/10/2019: Parliament, spin and the accurate reporting of Brexit
The Economist, 24/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s shabby treatment of Ulster unionists is foolish
The Conversation, 25/10/2019: Even with a deal, even with an election, these Brexit questions will still need to be answered
The UK in Changing a Europe: Analysis, 25/10/2019: The continued role for EU law in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill
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The Economist, 26/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal moves a step nearer to approval
The UK in Changing a Europe: Analysis, 28/10/2019: Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal poses a rules-of-origin conundrum
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The UK in Changing a Europe: Analysis, 29/10/2019: Could Boris Johnson have passed his Brexit Bill?

BBC News: Parliament suspension 2019
EurActiv, 26/07/2019: EU rebuffs Boris Johnson’s call to rework Brexit deal
EurActiv, 29/07/2019: Assuming EU will not budge, Britain ramps up preparations for no-deal Brexit
Politico, 18/08/2019: UK government no-deal Brexit fears revealed in full
Politico, 19/08/2019: Boris Johnson insists free movement ’will end’ October 31
EurActiv, 20/08/2019: Johnson tells EU he wants Brexit deal but without Irish backstop
EurActiv, 20/08/2019: EU’s Tusk rejects Johnson’s plea to scrap Irish backstop
Politico, 20/08/2019: UK officials to withdraw from EU meetings from September 1
Politico, 20/08/2019: EU rejects Boris Johnson’s Brexit backstop plan
EurActiv, 20/08/2019: UK yields voting rights to Finland, officials to skip meetings
Politico, 22/08/2019: Macron to Johnson: ‘Different’ Brexit agreement not possible in 30 days
Politico, 22/08/2019: UK government to scale back use of Brexit gag orders
EurActiv, 23/08/2019: Boris Johnson starts the long Brexit campaign
EurActiv, 26/08/2019: UK officially declines to name new EU Commissioner
EurActiv, 28/08/2019: Queen approves Johnson’s request to suspend UK parliament in new twist of Brexit drama
The Economist, 29/08/2019: Boris Johnson suspends Parliament, causing uproar
EurActiv, 29/08/2019: Johnson sparks fury in UK after suspension of parliament, EU stays cool
Politico, 31/08/2019: Protests across the UK over parliament suspension
Politico, 01/09/2019: Michel Barnier: No alternative to backstop until withdrawal deal ratified
EurActiv, 02/09/2019: Johnson mulls snap election as MPs seek to block no-deal Brexit
Politico, 02/09/2019: UK MPs publish plan to prevent no-deal Brexit
Politico, 02/09/2019: Boris Johnson’s election threat to would-be rebels
The Guardian, 03/09/2019: Boris Johnson to seek election after rebel Tories deliver Commons defeat
BBC News, 04/09/2019: PM in new battle after Commons vote defeat
Deutsche Welle, 04/09/2019: Boris Johnson suffers major defeat in no-deal Brexit vote
Reuters, 04/09/2019: Johnson bids for election as opponents seek to stop no-deal Brexit
BBC News, 04/09/2019: Boris Johnson's call for general election rejected by MPs
EurActiv, 05/09/2019: Johnson to hold new vote on snap election, as brother quits over Brexit strategy
Politico, 05/09/2019: Boris Johnson inches closer to a Brexit election gamble
Politico, 05/09/2019: Boris Johnson would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit
Deutsche Welle, 16/09/2019: No Brexit breakthrough as Johnson meets Juncker, EU says
France24, 16/09/2019: 'We need more than just words,' EU official says after Brexit talks
The Guardian, 18/09/2019: Brexit: Juncker calls for 'operable proposals in writing' from UK
EurActiv, 18/09/2019: Risk of no-deal Brexit ‘very real’, Juncker tells EU lawmakers
Politico, 18/09/2019: Jean-Claude Juncker: Risk of no-deal Brexit is ‘palpable’
The Guardian, 24/09/2019: Boris Johnson's suspension of parliament unlawful, Supreme Court rules
BBC News, 25/09/2019: Parliament: MPs and peers return after court rules suspension unlawful
BBC News, 01/10/2019: Brexit: Republic will not be 'dragged out' of the single market, says taoiseach
The Guardian, 02/10/2019: Boris Johnson Brexit plan 'risks damaging Northern Ireland economy'
BBC News, 02/10/2019: Brexit: DUP endorses Johnson's offer to European Union
Reuters, 02/10/2019: Wary EU welcomes progress in Brexit proposal, says big gaps remain
Politico, 02/10/2019: Boris Johnson publishes new Brexit plan
Deutsche Welle, 02/10/2019: UK's Boris Johnson sends last-gasp Brexit proposals to Brussels
EurActiv, 02/10/2019: ‘We are European’, says Johnson as he softens tone on Brexit plans
The Guardian, 03/10/2019: Brexit: dismay in Brussels as Boris Johnson finally reveals plan
BBC News, 03/10/2019: Boris Johnson to set out deal to MPs
Reuters, 17/10/2019: Johnson agrees Brexit deal, but must now win over parliament
BBC News, 17/10/2019: Brexit: EU and UK reach deal but DUP refuses support
EurActiv, 17/10/2019: Johnson gets his deal and plaudits, now eyes shift to Westminster
Deutsche Welle, 17/10/2019: EU 'sorry' to see UK leave as leaders agree to Brexit deal
Deutsche Welle, 19/10/2019: UK sends letters to EU for, and against, Brexit extension
Deutsche Welle, 22/10/2019: Key vote on Brexit deal debate fails in Parliament
EurActiv, 22/10/2019: Johnson’s deal secures majority but parliament pushes for ratification delay
EurActiv, 28/10/2019: EU approves Brexit ‘flextension’ until 31 January
Politico, 29/10/2019: UK sets course for December general election
EurActiv, 29/10/2019: Johnson gets his election as UK lawmakers finally agree December poll
Deutsche Welle, 29/10/2019: UK Parliament paves way for December general election

UK Government: Prime Minister's statement on 2 September 2019
European Commission: Press Release, 16/09/2019: Statement by the European Commission following the working lunch between President Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Government: PM meeting with President of the European Commission: 16 September 2019
European Parliament: Legislative Observatory: Procedure File for Resolution on the state of play of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union
European Parliament: Press Release, 19/09/2019: Brexit: new European Parliament reaffirms wholehearted support for EU position
European Commission: Statement by the European Commission following today's meeting between Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator, and Steve Barclay, the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, 20 September 2019
The Supreme Court, case UKSC 2019/0192, 24/09/2019: R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent)
UK Government: UK proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, 2 October 2019
European Commission: Statement by the European Commission following President Jean-Claude Juncker's phone call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 2 October 2019
European Commission: Statement by the European Commission following President Jean-Claude Juncker's phone call with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, 3 October 2019
European Parliament: Press Release, 03/10/2019: Brexit: recent UK proposals do not offer the safeguards the EU and Ireland need
European Commission: Statement by the European Commission following today's meeting between Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay, 11 October 2019
European Commission: Brexit: European Commission statement following this weekend's technical talks with the United Kingdom, 13 October 2019
European Commission: Press Release, 17/10/2019: Brexit: European Commission recommends the European Council (Article 50) to endorse the agreement reached on the revised Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland and revised Political Declaration
European Commission: Remarks by President Juncker at the joint press conference with Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 17 October 2019
UK Government: Policy Paper, 19/10/2019: New Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration
European Parliament: Press Release, 23/10/2019: Brexit: statement by EP President Sassoli following vote in Westminster
European Parliament: Press Release, 24/10/2019: Brexit: EP Group leaders support a flexible extension until 31/1/20
European Council: Press Release, 29/10/2019: Brexit: European Council adopts decision to extend the period under Article 50

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