This agreement is not the end of Brexit, it is a five year political truce

28th December 2020

More is now becoming apparent of the nature of the draft trade and cooperation agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

This post looks at two fundamental issues: structure and duration.


In regard of structure, let us start with what is expressly stated as the ‘purpose’ of the agreement:

‘This Agreement establishes the basis for a broad relationship between the Parties […]’

The word ‘broad’ is significant, especially when one looks at the following provision.

This provision expressly provides that it is envisaged that there will be ‘other’ agreements that will both ‘supplement’ this agreement but will be subject to this agreement.

The key word here, at the end of the numbered paragraph, is that this agreement is a ‘framework’.

As such it is not, and is not intended to be, a once-and-for-all agreement, setting out all the terms of the post-Brexit relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

This will not surprise many (no doubt they are already scrolling down to type ‘why is this a surprise?’ in the comment box below) but it is significant – and consequential – and needs spelling out.

This is explicitly not an agreement which shows that the United Kingdom has, in one single bound, ‘taken back control’ and become free.

The agreement instead shows, even in its first two substantive provisions, that Brexit will be an ongoing negotiation, maybe one without end.

All this agreement does – expressly and openly – is provide a ‘broad…framework’.


Once this is understood then other parts of the agreement make sense.

For example, there are numerous specialised trade committees set up for various sectors.

Loads of talking shops.

But some have rightly noted that some sectors do not have specialised trade committees.

The specialised trade committees which have been set up, however, oversee certain parts of the agreement.

So, if a sector is not the subject of other provisions in the agreement, then there will not be a specialised trade committee to oversee that sector.

(This is akin to, say, parliamentary select committees that are set up to mirror government departments.)

The reason, therefore, there is not a financial services specialised trade committee under this agreement is that there are no substantive provisions under this agreement on financial services (yet) for that committee to monitor.

If and when there is a ‘supplementary’ agreement on financial services, for example, there will be a corresponding new specialised trade committee.

That new committees can be formed is expressly provided for in the powers of the partnership council, that can ‘by decision, establish Trade Specialised Committees and Specialised Committees’.

The agreement, therefore, envisages both new supplementary agreements and new specialised committees.

(And these envisaged potential extensions are elsewhere in this agreement.)

In other words, this agreement is intended and designed to be a dynamic arrangement between the parties, where areas of trade and cooperation can change and indeed become closer (or less close) over time.

This means one consequence of Brexit is that the United Kingdom has swapped the dynamic treaties of the European Union which envisages things becoming closer (or sometimes less close) over time for a new ‘broad…framework’ dynamic agreement that also envisages things becoming closer (or sometimes less close) over time.

And this is part of the design, as the examples above show.


There is more.

Not only is the agreement envisaged and designed to be dynamic over time, it will also be subject to five-yearly reviews.

So slow, incremental changes within five periods will be complemented by possible far more substantive shifts every five years.

This again is part of the design.

Buried on page 402 of the agreement:

“The Parties shall jointly review the implementation of this Agreement and supplementing agreements and any matters related thereto five years after the entry into force of this Agreement and every five years thereafter.”

And once you realise there is this five year cycle, you notice it elsewhere in the agreement.

There are numerous references to ‘2026’ and ‘five years’.

And as John Lichfield has pointed out in this significant and informative thread, 2026 is also a significant date on the fisheries question:


Five year periods, of course, accord neatly with the five year cycles of the European Union.

The European Commission is appointed for a five year term, for example, and the European Parliament is elected every five years.

Each President of the European Council also tends to serve a five year term.

So this five year cycle of reviews is convenient for (and is no doubt designed to be convenient for) the European Union.

Each Commission, each European Parliament, and each President of the European Council, will have its turn to shape the relationship with the United Kingdom, before handing it onto the next.

The five year cycle also may suit the United Kingdom.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides that each parliament should last five years – though, of course, this statute is set for repeal.

But, in any case, the politics of the United Kingdom generally tends to follow cycles of four to five years.

And if Fixed-term Parliaments Act stays in place, the next general election is in 2024, just in time for the run-up to the next review of the agreement.


The trade and cooperation agreement is expressly and openly designed to have both small changes within five year cycles and potentially big changes every five years.

As such, this agreement is not the end of Brexit.

The agreement is not (and is not intended to be) a once-and-for-all settlement of the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

It is instead – deliberately – a dynamic agreement, capable of enabling closer union (or less close union) over time.

The five year cycles accord exactly with the convenience of the terms of the European Union and also roughly match the political cycle of the United Kingdom.

This agreement does not bring Brexit to an end, it is instead a five year political truce.


This law and policy blog provides a daily post commenting on and contextualising topical law and policy matters – each post is published at about 9.30am UK time.

Each post takes time, effort, and opportunity cost.

If you value the free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary both at this blog and at my Twitter account please do support through the Paypal box above.

Or become a Patreon subscriber.

You can also subscribe to this blog at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).


This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.




22 thoughts on “This agreement is not the end of Brexit, it is a five year political truce”

  1. Why in the world would ERG and Brexit ultras support this? It patently fails to deliver the definitive divorce that they sought. How have they been bought off – or to put it slightly differently – are we to assume that in the end they are also only concerned with the optics and politics of the matter?

    1. Maybe it gives them a reason to stay in business as a perpetual right-wing pressure group, whereas a clean break might rob them of their raison d’etre?

  2. Two phrases stick in my mind: ‘The clock is ticking” and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
    Do we need another phrase that includes five year framework?

  3. To what extent is it possible to infer HMG’s true (and possibly undeclared) political aims by reading the agreement? For example

    1. if the political aim is to avoid defeat in Parliament, does the last-minute timing frustrate its opponents from organising, and the theatrics and melodrama confuse them?

    2. if the political aim is to retain power in 2024, particularly with the votes of the Conservative party’s new working-class supporters, then would an agreement which favours manufacturing and disfavours services help?

    3. if the political aim is to allow HMG to unfairly and discreetly reward its cronies and supporters, does the agreement help cover the tracks?

    4. if the political aim is minimise economic damage without jeopardising 1, 2 and 3, do the dynamic provisions create good tools to do this?

  4. This all sounds perfectly logical to me, and even gives me hope that we may be able to plug things back into the framework which bring us closer to what we have lost – just as soon as we stop pandering to the xenophobes and people start to realise it was better the way it was.

  5. 5-yearly reviews won’t happen overnight. There will presumably be a build up period where each party will formulate its case for a change in the glare of media floodlights. This will be followed by a tense negotiation period leading up to a Christmas panic when the new deal is clinched and the incumbent prime minister can declare a stunning victory.

    Brexit. The gift that keeps on giving.

  6. I’m thinking that Boris isn’t willing to Brexit on top of Covid, because he realises that the economic impact of both would be a disaster.

    He’s therefore banking on a deal that delivers in name, in the hope that when it all comes out, he has an oven ready excuse for not risking economic ruin, while doing his level best towards Brexit.

    I can’t think of another reason why he’d agree a deal like this.

    Thanks for your breakdown of the deal, it’s much appreciated.

  7. All these details confirm that Brexit only makes sense as an ideological project. It was sold as having economic benefits too, but there are likely to be few of those. And all of the ongoing work, costs and loss can always be explained away by a Brexit ‘true believer’. Catchphrases incorporating ‘our’, ‘freedom’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘own two feet’, ‘independent’, ‘state’ etc. etc. can’t be beaten. How long until voters want economic reality rather than a myth of freedom?

  8. We are indebted to all those who have taken the time to explain what this may mean, as even if I’d had the inclination to read the 1256 pages of the original document, not to mention documents published subsequently, there is no way I would have understood a word of it.

    Thank you DAG, much appreciated

  9. The Twelve Days of Brexit

    On the first day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    A Johnson in a belfry.

    On the second day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Two slithy Goves.

    On the third day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Three weise men.

    On the fourth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Four Frosts a-fishing.

    On the fifth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Five years of wrangling.

    On the sixth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Six geese a-Leyen.

    On the seventh day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    EU countries gasping.

    On the eighth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Huit obstacles bureaucratiques.

    On the ninth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Nine non-stop talking shops.

    On the tenth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Ten years of decreasing.

    On the eleventh day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    Eleven miles of lorries.

    And on the twelfth day of Brexit my false love sent to me
    12,000 pages of post-Brexit, weasel-worded, jolly smoke and mirrors.

  10. One notable absence is a committee to oversee labour rights, laws and standards. That seems to be in the special exemption category, awaiting the Government’s promised Employment Bill. Could a future blog look at employment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.