The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020, after 47 years of EU membership. In accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement, it is now officially a third country to the EU and hence no longer participates in EU decision-making.
The EU and the UK have, however, jointly agreed on a transition period, which will last until 31 December 2020. Until then, it will be business as usual for citizens, consumers, businesses, investors, students and researchers in both the EU and the UK. EU law still applies to the United Kingdom until the end of the transition period.
The EU and the UK will use these months to negotiate an ambitious and fair partnership for the future.
The Withdrawal Agreement
The Withdrawal Agreement concluded between the European Union and the United Kingdom establishes the terms of the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union.
The Withdrawal Agreement entered into force on 1 February 2020, after having been agreed on 17 October 2019, together with the Political Declaration setting the framework of the future EU-UK partnership.
The Agreement consists of two main documents:
- the Withdrawal Agreement itself, including a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland
- a Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union
The Withdrawal Agreement protects those EU citizens residing in the United Kingdom, and UK nationals residing in one of the 27 EU Member States at the end of the transition period.
It also protects the family members that are granted rights under EU law (such as current spouses and registered partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and a person in an existing durable relationship) to join their family member in the future.
The Political Declaration
The Political Declaration accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement and sets out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
It establishes the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership covering trade, economic cooperation and security.
The economic partnership will have a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement at its core and will cover areas of cooperation such as transport, energy, climate, environment and fisheries. The Declaration also states that the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.
With a view to Europe’s security and the safety of citizens, the future security partnership would cover both law enforcement and criminal justice, as well as foreign policy, security and defence and other areas of cooperation.
The Political Declaration also foresees that this partnership should be embedded in an overall governance framework, with appropriate mechanisms for enforcement and dispute settlement.
The negotiation process
On 3 February 2020, the Commission issued a recommendation to the Council to open negotiations on a new partnership with the United Kingdom. The negotiating directives were adopted by the Council on 25 February 2020.
It covers all the areas of interest set out in the Political Declaration, agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom in October 2019, including trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence, participation in EU programmes and thematic areas of cooperation.
As EU negotiator, the Commission intends to continue work in close coordination with the Council and its preparatory bodies, as well as with the European Parliament, as was the case during the negotiations for the Withdrawal Agreement.
The transition period
The transition period starts on 1 February 2020 and ends on 31 December 2020. Until then, it will be business as usual for citizens, consumers, businesses, investors, students and researchers, for instance, in both the EU and the United Kingdom.
This time-limited period was agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The transition period can be extended once, by up to one to two years. Such a decision must be taken jointly by the EU and United Kingdom before 1 July 2020.
The EU and the United Kingdom will use the months of the transition period to negotiate a new and fair partnership for the future, based on the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the United Kingdom in October 2019.
During the Transition Period, the United Kingdom is no longer a Member State of the European Union or of the European Atomic Energy Community. As a third country, it will no longer participate in the EU’s decision-making processes. It will also no longer be represented in the EU institutions (such as the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers), EU agencies, offices or other EU bodies.
However, and as agreed with the United Kingdom:
- All EU law, across all policy areas, is still applicable to, and in, the United Kingdom, with the exception of provisions of the Treaties and acts that were not binding upon, and in, the United Kingdom before the Withdrawal Agreement entered into force. In particular, the United Kingdom will remain in the EU Customs Union and in the Single Market with all four freedoms (of movement of goods, capital, persons and services) and all EU policies applying.
- All institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the European Union continue to hold the powers conferred upon them by EU law in relation to the United Kingdom and to natural and legal persons residing, or established in, the United Kingdom throughout the transition period.
- The United Kingdom continues to participate in EU programmes and to contribute to the Union’s budget covering the period 2014-2020.
The Court of Justice of the European Union continues to have jurisdiction over the United Kingdom during the transition period. This also applies to the interpretation and implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The United Kingdom is bound to the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU and the terms of relevant international agreements.
The EU Common Foreign and Security Policy applies to the United Kingdom during the transition period and the UK must implement the EU’s sanctions regimes and support EU statements and positions in third countries and international organisations.
International Agreements and Euratom
During the Transition Period, the United Kingdom will apply the international agreements of the Union. The United Kingdom can, however, take steps to prepare and establish new international arrangements of its own. Where such agreements cover areas of Union exclusive competence, they can only enter into force, or start to apply, during the Transition Period if the UK is explicitly authorised by the EU for this purpose.
The Union formally notified its international partners about the UK’s withdrawal and of the transitional arrangements foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement, including with respect to EU international agreements through a Note Verbale, which was also endorsed by the United Kingdom.
Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom (UKTF)
The Task Force is in charge of coordinating all the European Commission’s work on strategic, operational, legal and financial issues related to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal and its future relationship with the European Union.
It was set up on 16 November 2019 and replaces the Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU, which was created on 1 October 2016 to lead withdrawal negotiations. It is headed by Michel Barnier.