"The Withdrawal Agreement creates legal certainty where Brexit created uncertainty.
It preserves the Union’s interests."
- Michel Barnier, 17 October 2019
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
What the Withdrawal Agreement covers
- Common provisions: setting out standard clauses for the proper understanding and operation of the Withdrawal Agreement.
- Citizens' rights: protecting the life choices of over 3 million EU citizens in the United Kingdom, and over 1 million United Kingdom nationals in EU countries, safeguarding their right to stay and ensuring that they can continue to contribute to their communities.
- Separation issues: ensuring a smooth winding-down of current arrangements and enabling an orderly withdrawal from the United Kingdom, including, amongst others:
- to enable goods placed on the market before the end of the transition to continue to their destination
- to protect existing intellectual property rights including geographical indications
- to wind down ongoing police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters and other administrative and judicial procedures
- to address the use of data and information exchanged before the end of the transition period
- to address issues related to Euratom
- A transition period: during which the EU treats the United Kingdom as if it were a Member State, with the exception of participation in the EU institutions and governance structures. The EU and the United Kingdom will use these months to negotiate an ambitious and fair partnership for the future.
- The financial settlement: ensuring that the United Kingdom and the EU honour all financial obligations undertaken while the United Kingdom was a member of the EU.
- The overall governance structure of the Withdrawal Agreement: ensuring the effective management, implementation and enforcement of the agreement, including appropriate dispute settlement mechanisms.
- Ireland: a legally-operative solution that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and safeguards the integrity of the EU Single Market.
- Cyprus: a protocol on the Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) in Cyprus, protecting the interests of Cypriots who live and work in the Sovereign Base Areas following the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU.
- Gibraltar: a Protocol on Gibraltar, facilitating close cooperation between Spain and the United Kingdom in respect of Gibraltar on the implementation of citizens' rights within the Withdrawal Agreement. The Protocol also concerns administrative cooperation between appropriate authorities in a number of policy areas.
The implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement requires measures both at EU and at Member State level.
Timeline of ‘Article 50’ negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement
On 23 June 2016, the majority of the UK electorate who voted in the UK referendum on membership of the European Union chose to leave the European Union (52% to leave and 48% to remain).
- 29 March 2017
The United Kingdom initiated the formal withdrawal negotiation process by formally notifying the European Council of its intention to leave the EU.
This triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which sets out the procedure for a Member State to withdraw from the Union, beginning a two-year countdown to withdrawal.
The European Commission was appointed to negotiate a Withdrawal Agreement with the UK on behalf of EU27 Member States. The Commission appointed Michel Barnier to represent the Commission as Chief Negotiator. A Task Force under his leadership was set up in October 2016 to prepare and conduct the negotiations with the UK under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
- 29 April 2017
The European Council (in ‘Article 50’ formation, i.e. excluding the UK) adopted guidelines for the negotiations, outlining the EU's positions and principles.
- 19 June 2017
Formal negotiations were launched on the basis of "Terms of Reference for the Article 50 TEU negotiations", agreed between EU and UK negotiators, stipulating the structure of the negotiations, dates and priorities for future negotiating rounds.
- 15 December 2017
The European Council (Article 50) confirmed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made to move to the second phase of negotiations.
- 19 March 2018
EU and UK negotiators reached an agreement on the draft Withdrawal Agreement, enabling the European Council (Article 50) to adopt guidelines on the framework for a future EU-UK relationship on 23 March 2018.
- 14 November 2018
The Commission and the UK government agreed on the draft Withdrawal Agreement at negotiators’ level. On 22 November 2018, they agreed on the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future EU-UK relationship. On 25 November 2018, the European Council (Article 50) formally endorsed both these documents.
- 13 December 2018
Upon the UK’s request, the European Council (Article 50) provided additional clarification on the ‘backstop’ solution, provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement’s Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and which was intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Despite these assurances and further legal guarantees provided by the EU, the House of Commons rejected the agreed compromise package three times (on 15 January, 12 March and 29 March 2019).
At the UK’s request, the European Council (Article 50) agreed twice to extend the period under Article 50(3) TEU (first, on 21 March 2019 until 22 May 2019, in the event that the House of Commons approved the Withdrawal Agreement by 29 March 2019; then on 10 April 2019 until 31 October 2019).
- 24 July 2019
Following the deadlock in the UK Parliament, Prime Minister May resigned, and the new Conservative party leader Boris Johnson took over as Prime Minister.
- 17 October 2019
The EU and the UK reached an agreement on the Withdrawal Agreement, with a revised Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (eliminating the ‘backstop’) and a revised Political Declaration. On the same day, the European Council (Article 50) endorsed these texts.
- 19 October 2019
Tt the UK’s request, the European Council (Article 50) agreed to a third extension of the period under Article 50(3) TEU, until 31 January, to allow sufficient time for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
- 9 January 2020
The UK House of Commons voted 330 to 231 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
- 24 January 2020
The representatives of the UK and the EU signed the Withdrawal Agreement.
- 29 January 2020
The European Parliament approved the Withdrawal Agreement.
- 31 January 2020
The Council of the European Union concluded the Withdrawal Agreement.
- 1 February 2020
The United Kingdom became a third country.