Boris Johnson signs the Withdrawal Agreement, 24 January, 2020. This file is licensed under the United Kingdom Open Government Licence v3.0 (OGL v.3).

The UK and the EU approved a revised Withdrawal Agreement on 17 October 2019. Subsequently ratified, it entered into force on 31 January 2020.  Together with the Political Declaration, the Agreement concluded the Article 50 period of notice for the UK to withdraw from the EU and the European Atomic Energy Community.

In British eyes the relationship of the UK to the EU is now the same as any other ‘third country’, although the EU argues that geographical proximity and the 40 year-plus history of the UK’s EU membership means that there is a significant difference to its future relationship unlike distant ones with Japan and Canada.

Where have we got to?

  • The UK is currently in a transition period until 31 December 2020. During this period, the EU treats the UK as though it remains an EU member state, the UK continues in the Single Market and the Customs Union, and follows EU law but is outside the EU’s political institutions and has no ‘voice’ in them.
  • During the transition period the UK benefits from the EU’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with third countries, but may not strike new agreements with those with which the EU has an agreement without EU consent.
  • The arrangements in the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement under Boris Johnson differ significantly from the WA negotiated in 2018 under Theresa May in that
    • the UK will no longer be legally bound to continue with the level playing field commitments at the end of the transition period,
    • Northern Ireland will still be in the UK’s customs territory but will align with the EU’s rules and will vote on whether they wish to continue the arrangements in the new Protocol fours after transition.
    • References in the Political Declaration to close UK alignment with EU rules and to a trading relationship that is “as close as possible” are also removed. The revised PD also no longer proposes building on the dispute resolution and enforcement arrangements set out in the WA.
  • The Withdrawal Agreement is accompanied by a revised Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK i.e. a Free Trade Agreement.
  • The Agreement makes up the terms of the EU-UK ‘divorce settlement’ and comprises (linked to government documents):
  1. Withdrawal Agreement – Citizens rights remain until end of the transition period but the UK and EU27 have discretion to agree residency status.
  2. Political Declaration – This sets the framework for a future relationship between the EU and UK. It could be closer or looser, depending on what is agreed. There are five aspects to the Political Declaration: cooperation, economic, security, institutional, and forward process.
  3. Democratic Consent and the Protocol on Northern Ireland (aka the ‘backstop’)  –  The Protocol allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to provide “consent” for certain EU regulations continuing in Northern Ireland. The first vote would take place four years after the end of the transition period. In the event that the EU and UK do not agree a future relationship, the Northern Ireland backstop will kick in to ensure there is no border between Ireland and Northern Ireland aligned to the EU rules whilst remaining part of the UK customs territory.
  4. Protocol on Gibraltar (Concordat) and Protocol on Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus (link sought).
  5. Joint Committee (WAJC) – The WAJC will determine the terms of trade agreements during the eleven month transition period.  The co-chairs are Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, for UK and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič for the European Commission for EU with a team of officials from relevant departments and invited experts. The WAJC also considers the Financial Settlement (estimated at £33bn), citizens rights, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Northern Ireland protocols and various other provisions including specialist sub-committees. The first meeting was held by teleconference on 25 March.  More about the timetable here.


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