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Latest 18 September 2023

Brexit deal was only ever a ‘starting point’

Ivan Marc, Shutterstock

Research from Good Law Project shows that Keir Starmer would have plenty of room to renegotiate Boris Johnson’s disastrous EU deal in 2025.

On the latest leg of his global tour, Keir Starmer took time out in Montreal to explain he wants to rework Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. “Almost everyone recognises the deal Johnson struck is not a good deal – it’s far too thin,” Starmer told the Financial Times. “As we go into 2025 we will attempt to get a much better deal for the UK”.

Good Law Project commissioned the barrister Tim Johnston – a specialist in EU law – to look at the five-year review baked into the deal. In his advice (PDF), Johnston concludes that the agreement itself makes clear “that it is a starting point for the parties’ future relationship”.

The deal provides for a “review” after five years, “and every five years thereafter”, the first of which is due in December 2025. According to Johnston, the agreement “expressly anticipates that the parties may amend and supplement the arrangements between them”. This could be either by choosing to “amend and revise the underlying terms” of the deal, or by expanding the agreement’s “footprint…  into areas not covered by the current agreement, such as services”.

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Johnston cites legal commentators such as Mark Konstantinidis and Vasiliki Poula, who describe the deal as “but a starting point” and the editors of the European Law Review who emphasise its “dynamic nature”, adding that “Brexit is a process which will continue to be negotiated incrementally for quite some time”.

According to The Executive Director of Good Law Project, Jo Maugham, the research presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the Labour leader.

“The Tories are trying to suggest Keir Starmer wants to reverse Brexit,” Maugham said, “but Boris Johnson’s deal was only ever a starting point. If Starmer wins in 2024, there’s plenty of room within the treaty to fix the most glaring problems. What he needs to find is not the opportunity but the desire”.

As Tim Johnston says, the deal offers the UK and the EU “considerable flexibility to alter the terms of the relationship between them”. Whether they choose to exercise that flexibility – or not – is “a question of political will”.

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