Representation in Ireland

Brexit and Ireland


EU and UK flags
EU and UK flags
On 23rd June 2016 voters in the United Kingdom decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. The UK officially notified the European Council of its intention to leave on 29th March 2017.

The notification triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and allowed talks on the withdrawal to begin.

Complex negotiations concluded with a Withdrawal Agreement and a Political Declaration in October 2019, paving the way for an orderly withdrawal on 31st January 2020. On 3rd February 2020, the European Commission issued a recommendation to the Council to open negotiations on a new partnership with the United Kingdom.

This recommendation is based on the existing European Council guidelines and conclusions, as well as on the Political Declaration.

The UK and the EU are now in a transitional period that will last until 31st December 2020. This is to enable both sides to agree on a new and fair partnership for the future.

In the meantime, it will be business as usual for citizens, consumers, businesses, investors, students and researchers in both the EU and the United Kingdom. The only noticeable difference is that the UK will not take part in EU decision-making procedures.

Regardless of the outcome of negotiations on a new partnership with the United Kingdom, Brexit will create barriers to trade in goods and services and to cross-border mobility and exchanges that do not exist today.

Public administrations, businesses, citizens and stakeholders on both sides will be affected and so must prepare for change.

To help with the preparations, the European Commission is regularly updating over 100 sector-specific stakeholder preparedness notices it published during the Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

The Withdrawal Agreement includes a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland that’s designed to prevent a hard border on the island. This Protocol comes into force at the end of the transitional period.

This was a major priority during Withdrawal Agreement negotiations and it required a creative, workable solution to protect the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.

The Protocol is a complex but functional system that allows Northern Ireland to remain in the UK customs territory and, at the same time, benefit from access to the Single Market.

However, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier pointed out during a speech at Queen's University Belfast, in January 2020, that “the UK’s decision to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union makes frictionless trade impossible”.

Mr Barnier described the Protocol as “a workable system, built to last”.

“Importantly, it gives the elected representatives of Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly the right to decide whether to continue applying the system or not, four years after it starts to apply,” he added.

The Protocol contains other provisions that protect unique circumstances on the island of Ireland such as continuation of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.

It also allows for crucial North-South cooperation in areas such as agriculture, transport, education, tourism and the Single Electricity Market is also preserved.

The PEACE funding programmes that support peace and reconciliation and promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions of Ireland will also continue.

Protocol operation

  • A Specialised Committee on the implementation and application of the Protocol has been established. It’s one of six Specialised Committees that make recommendations to a Joint Committee composed of representatives from the EU and the United Kingdom that is responsible for overseeing the Withdrawal Agreement.
  • Checks and controls will take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. For example, food products and live animals have to be checked to see if they meet sanitary and phytosanitary (‘SPS’) requirements. All goods must fully comply with relevant EU rules and standards.
  • In order to avoid a hard border, checks will take place at Northern Ireland's entry points away from the island’s land border. Risk controls, if required, may be carried out in Dublin and other EU entry points.
  • All checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK will be carried out by UK authorities with appropriate supervisory and enforcement mechanisms for the EU.
  • EU customs duties will apply to goods entering Northern Ireland unless the Joint Committee sets out a framework of conditions under which goods are considered not to be at risk of entering the EU's Single Market.
  • No customs duties will be payable if it can be demonstrated that goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are not at risk of entering the EU's Single Market.
  • EU customs formalities and procedures will apply to goods brought into Northern Ireland from outside of the EU or exported from Northern Ireland.
  • EU VAT and excise rules apply to goods entering (or leaving) Northern Ireland from (or to) the rest of the UK.

Infographic about the Protocol

Citizens' rights

One of the main EU priorities in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations was protecting citizens who have built their lives on the basis of rights flowing from UK membership of the EU.

While Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the EU, its people who choose to be Irish citizens will still be EU citizens. That means they can continue to move and live freely within the EU and the UK has committed to upholding their rights.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides legal certainty for EU citizens residing in the UK, and UK nationals residing in one of the 27 EU Member States at the end of the transitional period.

The implementation and application of citizens' rights in the EU will be monitored by the European Commission, and in the UK by an independent national authority.

The rights of non-Irish citizens moving between the UK and the EU after the end of the transitional period will be the subject of future negotiations.

The rights of Irish citizens to live, work and access public services in the UK are protected under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

Map showing the distribution of UK citizens in the EU

Transitional period

The Withdrawal Agreement provides a transitional period up until the end of 2020 during which EU law still applies in the UK.

This allows a limited time period for both sides to negotiate a new partnership for the future, based on the agreed Political Declaration.

During the transitional period the UK is no longer a Member State but it stays in the EU Customs Union and the Single Market and remains bound by obligations stemming from all EU international agreements.

The UK is no longer represented in EU institutions, agencies and bodies but UK officials may attend - as part of the EU delegation - international consultations and negotiations in view of preparing for its future membership of relevant international fora.

Application of the Common Fisheries Policy to the UK continues during the transition period as does the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs policies.

Financial settlement

The financial provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement ensure that both the UK and the EU will honour all financial obligations undertaken while the UK was a member of the EU.

The financial settlement is not a fixed amount but an agreed methodology on how to calculate the cost of these obligations. The methodology is underpinned by principles including that no Member State should pay more or receive less because of the UK withdrawal.

The UK should also pay its share of commitments made during its membership and neither pay more nor earlier than if it had remained a Member State.


The Withdrawal Agreement includes arrangements to ensure the UK’s departure is managed effectively and to settle any disputes that may emerge.

The Joint Committee will initially be consulted in the event of dispute on the interpretation of the Agreement and if no solution is found the issue can be referred to a panel for binding arbitration.

In case of non-compliance, the arbitration panel may impose financial penalties. However, if there is a question of Union law, the panel is obliged to refer issues to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

If compliance is still not restored after these steps, parties are allowed to suspend proportionately application of the Withdrawal Agreement itself, except for citizens' rights, or parts of other agreements between the Union and the UK.