What’s in Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal – and how is it different to May’s?

IPPR comparison of Johnson and May's Brexit deals finds the PM's deal is a 'harder' version than his predecessor's.

New analysis of the revised UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration by the IPPR think tank finds that Boris Johnson’s deal with the EU will be a harsher Brexit than Theresa May’s.

The progressive think tank’s study finds more trade barriers, greater regulatory divergence, and weaker protections for workers’ rights and the environment in the PM’s agreement.

Parliament will sit on a Saturday this weekend – for the first time since the Falklands War – to debate and vote on Johnson’s new deal. FT analysis suggests is likely to be a close vote, with a fierce Tory whipping operation underway to bring in the hardline European Research Group of MPs. The DUP have confirmed their 10 MPs will be instructed to vote against the deal.

The IPPR’s analysis of Johnson’s agreement cuts across four areas of policy – Northern Ireland, trade, social and environmental protections, and governance arrangements.

Northern Ireland

The revised Irish protocol is now restricted to Northern Ireland – the previous UK-EU customs union has been removed from the text. As with Theresa May’s proposals, Northern Ireland is subject to a range of EU single market rules for goods, as well as the EU’s customs code. Moreover, given there will be no customs union between the UK and the EU under the new proposals, this is likely to lead to additional trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The revised Irish protocol states that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory. However, in practice Northern Ireland will be subject to the Union Customs Code and all necessary checks on goods will take place between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, rather than at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish protocol contains new provisions to limit tariffs being paid on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Where a good is not at risk of subsequently entering the EU via Northern Ireland, tariffs will not need to be paid. There will also be arrangements allowing for the UK to reimburse tariffs for goods brought into Northern Ireland, under certain conditions.

The Irish protocol is now in effect the ‘default’ arrangement for Northern Ireland after Brexit; references to replacing the protocol have been removed or played down.


The revised Irish protocol erases the UK-EU customs union from the original text. The ‘fallback’ trading arrangements for Great Britain and the EU if no future economic relationship is reached during the transition period are therefore equivalent to a ‘no deal’ scenario.

The new Political Declaration removes references to alignment with EU rules and explicitly recognises the need for checks on rules of origin as part of the future Free Trade Agreement. It also removes reference to a “spectrum of different outcomes” for future checks and controls on UK-EU trade. It therefore points towards a harder Brexit than May’s Political Declaration – involving less alignment with EU rules and so greater barriers to trade.

Workers’ rights and environment protections

Given the Irish protocol no longer includes a UK-EU customs union, it also no longer references ‘level playing field’ protections for social and labour standards (i.e. workers’ rights) and environmental standards.

The Political Declaration references how both parties should “maintain environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards”, a similar wording to the original text of the Withdrawal Agreement. But the Political Declaration is merely a statement of intent, not a binding commitment.

This means that ‘level playing field’ conditions are now at risk. They will be a central focus of the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, but for now, without the protections in the Irish protocol, there is less certainty that labour and environmental standards will be maintained after Brexit.

This means that ‘level playing field’ conditions are now at risk. They will be a central focus of the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, but for now, without the protections in the Irish protocol, there is less certainty that labour and environmental standards will be maintained after Brexit.


There is now an additional mechanism for the Irish protocol to secure democratic consent in Northern Ireland. This requires a majority of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly to give their consent every four years after the end of the transition period – or every eight years if the decision has cross-community support.

The Political Declaration indicates that the Boris Johnson government envisages a weaker governance arrangement for the future relationship compared with the Theresa May government. The text no longer says that the arrangements for dispute resolution and enforcement will be based on the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and makes explicit where the Court of Justice of the European Union should not be involved in resolving UK-EU disputes.

Tom Kibasi, IPR Director, said:

“This deal opens the door to a decade of deregulation. It puts workers’ rights, environmental protections, and consumer standards at risk. It places the whole British economy and the NHS on the table for trade negotiations with Donald Trump. So the deal may satisfy the ERG but it should terrify everyone else.”

“Even if the deal passes, which looks unlikely, Britain now faces years of difficult negotiations with the EU to conclude a trade agreement. This is only the end of the beginning of Brexit.” 

At least 30 MPs have signed a letter calling for the government’s ‘impact assessments’ of Johnson’s deal to be published, while hundreds of thousands are expected to march for a ‘People’s Vote’ in London on Saturday.

Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts MP said:

“MPs are being asked to vote on a generation-defining issue on Saturday, it is only right that we know its consequences.  

“It would be incomprehensibly irresponsible of Boris Johnson not to undertake and release impact assessments, especially considering we had this information when voting on previous versions of Brexit.

“Parliament and the public deserve to know the truth about what faces them if this deal goes through. This is not about playing politics, but future of the four nations of the UK and communities we all represent.” 

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

4 Responses to “What’s in Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal – and how is it different to May’s?”

  1. Julia Gibb

    How many of the Red Tories will tramp through the Division lobby with the Blue Tories tomorrow?
    If you are backing a Right Wing Tory Government determined to undermine workers rights, enviromental protections, human rights etc etc you should not be in the Labour Party.

  2. Tom Sacold

    Of course, there is the alternative view that I’ve suggested here on a number of occasions over recent months.

    You will never be able to implement effective socialist policies within the EU’s Single Market. The rules, supported by the legal judgements of the ECJ, simply do not allow it.

    The EU was developed to support the profits of european multinational corporations, not the interests of european workers. It is a captialist club interested only in markets and profits.

  3. Alasdair MacVarish

    Some lefties whinge that EU stops UK offering more to ordinary people. However in much of EU, pensions, unemployment benefits and holidays are much better. Productivity in Germany and France is much higher as a consequence of better training and higher capital investment enabling higher wages. UK left lacks the wit and will to make progress

  4. Cole

    Any ‘socialist’ that supports the Johnson deal will be helping the destruction of the environmental, worker and consumer protections we have. They may not be perfect, but we’ll miss them once there’s gradual convergence with Trump’s US.

    Let’s hope any Labour MP who aids the Tories has the whip removed.

Comments are closed.