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Brexit has arrived: Where are we now? What happens next?

Met dank overgenomen van Duits voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2020 (Duits Voorzitterschap), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 31 juli 2020.

Following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on 1 February 2020, the two sides are now negotiating what form future relations will take. Here is the most important information:

What has happened since 1 February 2020?

A Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated before the UK left the EU in order to ensure that the main political and economic links between the EU and the UK were not severed from one day to the next upon the UK's departure. This Agreement has been in force since 1 February 2020, the day the UK left the EU. It provides for a transition period until 31 December 2020, during which time EU law continues to apply to the UK. The UK remains part of the EU's single market and the EU customs union.

The EU and the UK are negotiating their future relationship during this transition period. The Political Declaration on the future relationship, agreed to by both sides, flanks the Withdrawal Agreement and sets the framework for negotiations. The Political Declaration essentially envisages an economic partnership and a security partnership. In accordance with the Political Declaration, the 27 member states of the EU agreed on 25 February 2020 to the negotiating mandate for the European Commission, which is conducting negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK on behalf of the member states. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, presented the draft text of a comprehensive Agreement on the New Partnership with the UK in mid‑March.

Where do the negotiations go from here?

Since March, the EU and the UK have continued with regular rounds of negotiations, the difficulties ensuing from the COVID‑19 pandemic notwithstanding. The EU is conducting its negotiations on the basis of the jointly agreed Political Declaration. However, significant differences have not yet been resolved.

At the High Level Meeting on 15 June 2020, the Presidents of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament agreed with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intensify the negotiations. The remaining months of the transition period are to be used intensively. Two formal rounds of negotiations will take place before the end of August. In addition, the EU and UK chief negotiators, Michel Barnier and David Frost, will discuss issues on a weekly basis with close advisers.

This new intensified framework is intended to create the most conducive conditions for concluding the negotiations successfully within the short time available.

What will happen on 1 January 2021?

The transition period stipulated in the Withdrawal Agreement ends on 31 December 2020. It is no longer possible to extend this period. This would have required a joint decision on an extension by 1 July 2020. The UK let this deadline pass. As of 1 January 2021, the UK will thus no longer be part of the single market or the customs union.

Even if an agreement on the future relationship is concluded by the year’s end, the EU’s relationship with the UK will fundamentally change and it will be very different from when the UK was a member of the single market. Take customs formalities, for example, which will then be necessary.

Like the EU member states, the citizens and businesses of Germany and the entire EU must prepare for the consequences of the end of the transition period, irrespective of whether an agreement on the future partnership is reached with the UK before then or not.

The EU wants to continue to have a close partnership with the UK. We believe it is possible to reach a successful agreement on the basis of the Political Declaration. However, it is important for us to prepare for all possible outcomes to the negotiations. This includes preparing for no agreement.

What role does the Withdrawal Agreement play?

Thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement, nothing much changed for citizens and businesses when the UK left the EU on 1 February 2020.

The EU’s freedom of movement, i.e. the right to live, work, study or have social security coverage in the EU and in the UK, continues to apply in full during the transition period.

However, the UK has not had any representation in EU institutions since its withdrawal. UK citizens are thus also excluded from participating in European citizens’ initiatives and have no right to vote in local elections in other EU countries or in European Parliament elections, nor to stand as candidates in such elections.

EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU will enjoy lifelong comprehensive protection of their rights; they can continue to live, work, study and enjoy social security in the UK and the EU, respectively. You must, however, register to protect your rights. German legislation on this issue is currently being considered by the German parliament, the Bundestag, and will enter into force in due time, before the end of the transition period. Further information is available on the website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI).

Which rules will apply to citizens and businesses who want to relocate, work or study in another country after the transition phase ends will largely depend on the outcome of present negotiations on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The special Protocol for Northern Ireland, attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, guarantees the integrity of the EU single market; at the same time, it ensures that there will be no controls at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and that the Good Friday Agreement remains fully in force.

The Protocol provides that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory, but that all relevant rules of the EU single market will apply in Northern Ireland, as will the Union Customs Code. The checks and collection of customs duties that this will entail will take place at the entry points to the island of Ireland in Northern Ireland.

Furthermore, the UK’s financial obligations towards the EU are one of the points laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Withdrawal Agreement also establishes the Joint Committee and a number of specialised committees, in which the EU and the UK regularly discuss questions relating to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement and, if necessary, may adopt decisions by mutual consent, for example, on questions of interpretation.

It is now important that the Withdrawal Agreement and the attached Protocols are implemented in full. We also consider this a key foundation of trust for the negotiations.

Where can I find more information?

The European Commission answers questions on its website, including:

  • What is included in the Common Provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement?
  • What has been agreed on citizens’ rights?
  • What has been agreed on separation issues?
  • What has been agreed on the governance of the Withdrawal Agreement?
  • What has been agreed regarding the financial settlement?
  • Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The European Commission also publishes readiness notices to help public authorities, businesses and citizens prepare for the unavoidable changes that will occur at the end of the transition period, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

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