Brexit and Ireland
The notification triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which sets out the process for leaving, and the UK will remain a full Member State until it’s complete.
The presidents of the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission have stated that they want the UK to be a close partner of the European Union in the future.
How that partnership will be shaped can’t be known until negotiations on Brexit conclude and both sides ratify a Withdrawal Agreement.
As the closest Member State to the UK, Ireland has a special interest in future relationships with our nearest neighbours and this is a core issue in the negotiations.
It’s an unprecedented situation that causes uncertainty, but while respecting the wishes of the UK to leave, the Union of 27 Member States will continue to move forward and carve out a vision for the future together regardless.
How the process works
The Commission has nominated Michel Barnier as chief negotiator and his Brexit Taskforce’s mandate for negotiations comes from the process set out in Article 50 as well as political guidelines adopted by the EU27 and agreed with the UK.
The Commission aims to ensure a maximum level of transparency throughout the process and the taskforce reports back to the EU27 as negotiations progress.
The European Parliament is also being regularly briefed and EU citizens can follow the negotiations on the Commission’s Brexit website.
Under Article 50, there’s a two-year timeframe set out for negotiations on leaving the Union and this ends on 29 March 2019 for Brexit when the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union.
The negotiations are designed to reach a conclusive, final agreement with the UK on an orderly withdrawal based on a balance of rights and obligations that preserves the integrity of the Single Market.
The guidelines state that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ and there will be no separate negotiations between individual Member States and the UK during the process.
The first round of Article 50 negotiations began on June 19 2017 and when all phases are concluded successfully, the Union negotiator will propose a Withdrawal Agreement to the Council and the European Parliament.
The Parliament must give its consent through a simple majority vote, including from UK MEPs.
The Council will conclude the agreement and under the Treaty on European Union this can be done by a vote of strong qualified majority (i.e. 20 countries representing 65% of the EU27 population).
The UK must also approve the agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements.
If there is no agreement reached the EU Treaties will simply cease to apply to the UK.
The European Council of EU27 and the European Commission recognise that Ireland is in a unique position when it comes to Brexit.
A number of special circumstances need to be confronted and this is reflected in the Commission’s guiding principals for the dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
Issues unique to Ireland include protecting the gains of the peace process, maintaining existing bilateral agreements and arrangements such as the Common Travel Area, and avoiding a ‘hard’ border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Commission’s Position Paper on Ireland states that the onus is on the United Kingdom to propose solutions to overcome the Brexit challenges Ireland faces.
It asks for flexible and imaginative solutions to avoid a hard border and a political commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
The paper also states that as the people of Northern Ireland have the right to both Irish and British nationality, full account should be taken of the fact that Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens.
The EU’s aim is to ensure the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland is minimised and a common understanding with the UK on this was achieved during the early stages of the process, which allowed talks to progress.
A joint report published by both sides in December 2017 stated that the Withdrawal Agreement would guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland and protect current north-south co-operation.
The report also confirmed that the UK intends to meet its commitments to Ireland through the overall future EU-UK relationship, but will propose specific ‘backstop’ solutions that will come into force if a Withdrawal Agreement isn’t achieved.
A Draft Withdrawal Agreement published by the European Commission in March 2018, includes an aspiration from both sides to create a common regulatory area on the island of Ireland.
The Commission has published the EU’s 'backstop' proposal under which Northern Ireland would form part of the EU’s customs territory and goods would be checked at ports and airports.
However, the UK had still to propose a backstop agreement acceptable to the EU by June 2018.
The agreed position of both sides is that a Withdrawal Agreement can’t be concluded without a backstop.
The three main objectives were to protect the rights of all citizens during and after withdrawal, preserve the Peace Process and cooperation on the island of Ireland and for the UK to honour its financial commitments on all EU pre-Brexit agreements.
In December 2017, the Brexit Taskforce and UK negotiators issued a joint report detailing agreements and commitments made during this first phase of talks.
The Commission published a memo explaining the rights of both EU and UK citizens post-Brexit and negotiators reached a common understanding on avoiding a ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland.
The EU and the UK also agreed a methodology that will see the UK contribute to and participate in the implementation of the EU annual budgets for the years 2019 and 2020 as if it had remained in the Union.
The second phase of negotiations began early in 2018 and included talks on a transition period proposed by the UK following Brexit and the framework for the future relationship.
A draft Withdrawal Agreement was published at the end February 2018, followed by a revised and consolidated version two weeks later. The draft agreement is colour-coded to show the level of progress made on each of its articles, chapters and protocols.
The agreement includes a transitional period from Brexit day on March 29 2019 to December 31 2020 during which the UK will continue to participate in the Customs Union and the Single Market (with all four freedoms).
The UK will be subject to current and any new EU laws and rules during the transitional period but will be no longer be represented in EU institutions, agencies, bodies or offices.
The UK can negotiate, sign and ratify its own trade deals during the transitional period.
By June 2018, a joint statement from both side showed talks had advanced on a number of issues including customs, VAT, certificates for goods and Euratom nuclear research and training activities.
However, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned in a press briefing that serious divergences still remained with the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
In a meeting of the European Council of EU27 on June 29, leaders welcomed progress made on parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement but also expressed concern that no substantial progress had yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland.