Representation in Ireland

Brexit and Ireland


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

The notification triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which sets out the process for leaving and allowed talks on the withdrawal to begin.

On 25 November 2018 the Heads of State/Government of the other 27 EU Member States endorsed a Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the European Commission and the UK Government.

A Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations was also approved at the same time.

Article 50 extensions


View of the European Council meeting of 10 April 2019
The Withdrawal Agreement also needs to be ratified by the UK parliament.

However, despite clarifications presented in an exchange of letters on 14 January 2019 between the Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May and Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the UK parliament still hadn’t given its approval.

Further clarifications and legal guarantees on the nature of the ‘backstop’ for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland as well as a joint statement supplementing the political declaration were agreed on 11 March 2019.

With no sign of an endorsement by the UK Parliament towards the end of March 2019, EU27 leaders responded to a request from the UK and offered to extend the March 29 deadline until 12 April 2019.

On 5 April 2019 the UK asked for a further extension and on 11 April 2019, the European Council (Article 50) decided, in agreement with the United Kingdom, to extend further the period provided for by Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, until 31 October 2019.

Following this decision, and until further notice, any reference to the withdrawal date of the United Kingdom from the European Union must be read as referring to 1 November 2019 at 00.00 (CET).

Please note that:

(i)           In the event that the United Kingdom has not held elections to the European Parliament in accordance with the applicable Union law and has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May 2019, the Decision referred to above shall cease to apply on 31 May 2019, and the withdrawal will therefore take place on 1 June 2019; and

(ii)          should the United Kingdom ratify the Withdrawal Agreement at any stage before 31 October 2019, the withdrawal shall take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures.


The European Commission was appointed to negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with UK representatives on behalf of the European Council of the EU27.

The EU27 is a Council formation comprising the leaders of all Member States except the UK, Council President, Donald Tusk, and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.


Michel Barnier
The Commission nominated Michel Barnier as chief negotiator and his Brexit Taskforce’s mandate for negotiations came from the process set out in Article 50, as well as political guidelines adopted by the EU27 and agreed with the UK.

Negotiations on the terms of the UK's withdrawal began on 19 June 2017 with Commission officials keeping the European Parliament regularly briefed and ensuring the process was as transparent and inclusive as possible.

Detailed position papers and negotiating documents were published as they became available and EU citizens were able to follow the process on the Commission’s Brexit website.

Talks initially addressed the most important issues such as the protection of citizens' rights after Brexit, a financial settlement and the question of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

On 8 December 2017 a Joint Report setting out areas of agreement between the EU and the UK on these three initial issues was published.

A draft Withdrawal Agreement translating into legal terms the December Joint Report was published on 28 February 2018 with an amended version outlining areas of agreement and disagreement following on 19 March.

On 19 June 2018, a Joint Statement was published, outlining further progress in the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Problems agreeing a legally operative backstop solution to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and other issues were finally overcome and European Commission and UK negotiators reached an agreement on 14 November 2018.

The agreement, endorsed by the European Council on 25 November 2018, includes a transition period up to the end of 2020, during which the EU will treat the UK as if it were a Member State, with the exception of participation in the EU institutions and governance structures. This transition period can be extended by up to 1 or 2 years to be decided by 30 June 2020.

A timeline of the process, including subsequent developments regarding extensions of Article 50, is available on the European Council website.

Avoiding a hard border

The Withdrawal Agreement includes the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, also known as the ‘backstop’ solution for avoiding a hard border on the island.

There is no need for a backstop during the transition period negotiated in the Withdrawal Agreement as the UK will continue to participate in the EU Customs Union and the Single Market.

The Protocol is effectively an insurance policy that guarantees that, whatever the circumstances, there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU.

Both sides agree that the future EU-UK agreement must include provisions that avoid a hard border. However, if there is no agreement on how that happens by 31 December 2020 the backstop solution will apply until arrangements that eliminate the need for a hard border are put in place.

That means both Ireland and Northern Ireland would remain part of the same EU-UK customs territory with no tariffs, quotas, or checks on rules of origin.

Northern Ireland would also remain aligned to a limited set of rules related to the EU's Single Market that are indispensable for avoiding a hard border.

The rules would include legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls and Value Added Tax and excise duties in respect of goods.

If the backstop were in place, there would therefore be a need for checks on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, to ensure they comply with EU standards.

The EU and the UK have agreed to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible.

If either the EU or the UK considers the Protocol isn’t needed after the transition period, the other party has to be notified.

A new joint committee of EU and UK representatives established under the Withdrawal Agreement will consider the notification and may seek an opinion from institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement.

After that, both sides need to agree the Protocol is no longer needed as new measures in the future EU-UK agreement would avoid a hard border.

On 11 March 2019 a joint legally binding instrument provided meaningful clarifications and legal guarantees on the nature of the backstop.

The Strasbourg Agreement has legal force and complements the Withdrawal Agreement without reopening it. Speaking following the agreement, President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: "The backstop is an insurance policy, nothing more, nothing less. The intention is for it not to be used, like in every insurance policy.

“And if it were ever to be used, it will never be a trap. If either side were to act in bad faith, there is a legal way for the other party to exit.”

Other Protocol provisions

As well as a single EU-UK customs territory, the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland includes other provisions for avoiding a hard border and ensuring the rights of citizens on the island.

It sets out the UK's commitment to rights established in the Good Friday Agreement, and provides for the continuation of the Common Travel Area arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

It also ensures that the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation are maintained, preserves the Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland and protects the all-island economy.

The Protocol binds the UK to substantive rules, based on international and EU standards, to ensure open and fair competition, and the UK has committed to apply EU state aid rules.

There are also measures to address anti-competitive business practices, ensure good tax governance and maintain environmental protection standards.

Whilst Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the EU, a great number of people born and raised there will still be EU citizens by choosing to be Irish citizens.

That means they can continue to move and reside freely within the EU and they can’t be discriminated against on the basis of nationality.

The PEACE and INTERREG funding programmes for Northern Ireland and the border regions of Ireland will continue. The European Commission has proposed a single PEACE PLUS programme for beyond 2020.

The Commission has published a Fact Sheet on the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland where more information can be found.

Withdrawal Agreement

The Withdrawal Agreement establishes the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

It’s designed to facilitate an orderly withdrawal and provide legal certainty once the Treaties and EU law cease to apply to the UK.

A political declaration that sets out the framework for negotiating a future EU-UK relationship has also been agreed.

The Withdrawal Agreement ensures a smooth winding-down of current EU-UK arrangements during a transition period that lasts until 31 December 2020. The EU will treat the UK as if it were a Member State during the transition.

The transition period can be extended once by a newly established EU-UK Joint Committee, as long as it decides to do so before 1 July 2020.

During the transition, all EU legislation, rules and court decisions will continue to apply to and in the UK as if it were a Member State.

This means the UK will continue to participate in the EU Customs Union and the Single Market (with all four freedoms) and all Union policies.

Any changes to EU legislation or rules will automatically apply to the UK.

The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of over three million EU citizens in the UK, and over one million UK nationals in EU countries, meaning they can continue to live, work or study as they currently do.

It also outlines a financial settlement, ensuring the UK honours all financial obligations undertaken while it was a Member State.

The amount will be determined by an agreed methodology that honours all joint commitments from the EU budget (2014-2020), including outstanding commitments at the end of 2020.

That means all EU projects and programmes funded from the current EU budget and involving UK partners will continue to be financed until they’re completed.

There will also be ongoing police and judicial cooperation in criminal, civil and commercial matters.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) will remain competent for judicial procedures concerning the UK that are registered at the CJEU before the end of the transition period.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy will also apply to the UK during the transition period as will all elements of the Justice and Home Affairs Policy.

Brexit means UK withdrawal from Euratom, which promotes and supports the development of safe nuclear energy in Europe.

In the Withdrawal Agreement the UK has accepted its sole responsibility for the continued performance of nuclear safeguards and its international commitment to an equivalent of existing Euratom arrangements.

During the transition period, the Common Fisheries Policy will continue to apply to the UK. The UK will be bound by the decisions on fishing opportunities until the transition period ends.

Political declaration

The Political Declaration approved by the EU27 leaders along with the Withdrawal Agreement details the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The document is an outline of what both sides will be working towards during negotiations to conclude a new EU-UK agreement.

As with negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, the principal of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ will be in place.

The Withdrawal Agreement – including the transition period – takes into account the framework of the future relationship.

The EU27 have stated that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated. However, the Political Declaration needs to be further developed and agreed in its final form and so is open to be changed.

In parallel, the European Commission is continuing its preparedness and contingency work for all eventualities, including a no-deal scenario.

More information

Factsheets on: