What's new about Boris Johnson's Brexit deal?

17 October 2019, 12:20 | Updated: 18 October 2019, 15:39

Boris Johnson declared that the controversial backstop was dead as a new deal was struck with the European Union on Brexit.

But Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said much of the text of the agreement was the same as a year ago.

So what has changed?


Northern Ireland will remain aligned with the single market on goods, but checks and procedures will take place at ports and airports, and not at the border.

This means UK authorities will have responsibility for applying the EU rules in Northern Ireland.


Northern Ireland will be part of the UK's customs territory, ensuring it will be included in any future trade deal struck between the UK government and the EU.

But the region is still going to be an entry point to the EU's customs zone.

UK authorities will apply UK tariffs to products entering Northern Ireland as long as they are not destined to go across the border and into Ireland. In other words, no EU tariffs on goods going from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland.

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There won't be any tariffs on personal goods carried by travellers across the Irish frontier.

The UK will collect EU tariffs on behalf of the bloc for goods at risk of entering the single market.

An EU-UK joint committee will be formed to define a second group of exempted goods which will be those for immediate consumption rather than subsequent processing.


EU rules on VAT (value added tax) and excise duties will apply in Northern Ireland, but the UK will have to collect them.

Revenues derived will be retained by the UK.

The UK can also apply VAT exemptions and reduced rates in Northern Ireland that are applied in Ireland.


Stormont Assembly members will vote on whether to continue to apply the arrangements after an initial four-year period when they come into effect at the start of 2021.

The vote will be a simple majority head count at Stormont, and won't require the support of a majority of unionists and nationalists under the contentious "petition of concern mechanism".

The DUP will not have the opportunity to exercise a veto.

If the vote is carried, the arrangements will be extended for four years.

But if it turns out a majority of unionists and a majority of nationalists voted in favour of the move, and therefore gave cross-party support, then they will continue for eight years instead.

If members vote to come out of the EU arrangements, there will be a two-year cooling off period before it happens.

Future deal

The aim is to have a free-trade agreement after Brexit, with no tariffs and unlimited quotas.

The sides also hope to uphold high standards on environment, climate and workers' rights, among other things.

Political Declaration

A crucial motivation for Boris Johnson in negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement has been the desire to give the UK the freedom to secure free trade agreements with the rest of the world.

The new Political Declaration sets out the broad direction for the future relationship with the EU, with both sides committing to a "comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement" with "zero tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions" between the two sides.

If approved, that would remove the tariff issue from GB-Northern Ireland trade, but the UK appears to have compromised significantly on the so-called "level playing-field" - the requirement to stick close to EU regulations of goods and thus avoid the UK gaining what might be seen as an unfair advantage in future trade competition.

Mr Johnson said when re-opening negotiations that he no longer wanted "close regulatory alignment" with the EU, but the political declaration states: "Given the [European] Union and the United Kingdom's geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.

"These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages. To that end, the parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters."

That may remove some of the UK's latitude to do deals in future.