Brexit and Ireland
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, EU27 leaders of the European Council endorsed a Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by European Commission and UK representatives.
A Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations was also approved at the same time.
The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are now taking the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019.
This includes getting consent from a majority of European Parliament MEPs and the UK must also approve the agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements.
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.
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.
A timeline of the process is available on the European Council website.
Avoiding a hard border
There’s 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.
Both sides agree that the future EU-UK agreement must include provisions that avoid a hard border. However, if there’s no agreement on how that happens by 31 December 2020 the backstop solution will apply.
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 VAT and excise in respect of goods.
If the backstop was 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.
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.
While Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the EU, a great number of people born and raised there will still be EU 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 Commission has published a Fact Sheet on the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland where more information can be found.
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 on 29 March 2019.
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.
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 Political Declaration therefore needs to be further developed and agreed in its final form.
In parallel, the European Commission will continue its preparedness and contingency work for all eventualities.