Brexit: Why is it back in the news?

Last updated at 11:24
the European Union and the Union flagGetty Images
Brexit is back in the news, but what is happening?

Due to all the news about coronavirus, Brexit hasn't been in the headlines much recently.

But the process of the UK changing the way it works with the European Union is still going on, and is still a big deal.

The UK offically left the EU on 31 January 2020.

However there is still a lot that the UK and the EU need to agree on for this new relationship to work and there are important meetings happening all the time between UK representatives and those of the EU.

Both sides say they hope to agree a deal on rules for lots of big subjects such as trade, immigration and security, but there are still many areas of disagreement which might stop a deal happening.

If they do come to an agreement, these rules would have to be signed off by the EU and the UK by the end of the year.

The Brexit countdown clock is projected onto Number 10 Downing Street on January 31, 2020Getty Images
The Brexit countdown clock was projected onto Number 10 Downing Street
Didn't the UK leave the EU with a deal?

Sort of. When the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 - 'Brexit day' - there was a deal called the Withdrawal Agreement.

However this deal only decided how the UK would leave. It didn't set out what the future relationship would be like between both sides.

That's why they have been talking again.

What is happening now?
A map with a line being drawn between the EU and the UKGetty Images

The UK and the EU are currently having discussions. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he hopes the talks can be finished by 15 October so the rules can be in force by the end of the year.

However there isn't agreement between both sides on lots of issues.

In fact the most senior dealmaker on the UK side - David Frost - has started saying much more clearly that the UK is prepared to walk away without any sort of deal if the UK doesn't like what is on offer.

For its part, the EU has said that if the the UK wants a deal, it will need to give way on some issues.

What can't they agree on?
Welcome to Northern Ireland road sign at border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Donegal.PA
What happens to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit has caused a lot of discussion between MPs

Several things - but one of them is particularly complicated and has led to a big row in Parliament and in Europe.

Now - bear with us as this is where it gets complicated.

Part of the Withdrawal Agreement was that there would be no border checkpoints between the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK).

This was agreed to protect peace on the island of Ireland and preserve what was achieved in the Good Friday Agreement which brought an end to a period of conflict there known as 'the Troubles'.

You may have heard this issue being called the 'Backstop'.

However, unless a deal was struck between the EU and the UK, at a future point there would need to be some customs checks on goods crossing between the EU and the UK. How this would work was uncertain but many opponents of the Withdrawal Agreement felt that there was a danger of drawing a customs line down the Irish Sea which they felt would be unfair on people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

So where does the Internal Market Bill fit in?
Boris JohnsonJessica Taylor/UK Parliament

This week Boris Johnson has proposed a law called the Internal Market Bill which among other things aims to sort out the issue of avoiding businesses in Northern Ireland having to cross a customs border to sell stuff in the rest of the UK.

A key element of the Withdrawal Agreement is that rules which apply to border issues affecting Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland must be agreed by the UK and the EU together.

The Internal Market Bill changes that, and says the UK can make the law itself. The government had admitted in Parliament that this Bill breaks international law in what they call a "very specific and limited way".

This is controversial and many people have criticised this action. Firstly because it breaks international agreements the UK has already made and secondly because they say it will damage the UK's standing in the world - why would other countries make new deals with the UK when it has shown it won't stick to the ones it has already made, they argue.

The government says the new law is important to protect the unity of the United Kingdom but has also said it would only come into use if no deal was done with the EU.

The EU has threatened the UK government with legal action is it doesn't ditch these plans.

Why are politicians in Scotland and Wales unhappy ?
Boris Johnson and Nicola SturgeonPA Media
Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon come from very different positions on Brexit

Well, as well as affecting Northern Ireland the Internal Market Bill could change the way the UK is run.

Due to devolution Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the powers to make their own rules in many areas such as education, health, and farming.

Right now, the UK is part of the European single market, with jointly agreed rules and standards right across the continent on things like food and air quality and animal welfare.

cowsPA Media

After Brexit - many of those powers are set to be directly controlled by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments. However the UK government now says each country will still have to accept goods and services from all other parts of the UK - even if they have set different standards locally.

This has led to an argument where the UK Parliament in London is being accused of undermining the power of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies to set their own rules.

The Scottish government has not ruled out legal action to prevent it becoming law.

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