Brexit negotiations: recent developments

Current status

On 11 April 2019, the EU approved an extension to the UK’s exit date to 31 October 2019 (from 12 April 2019). The UK can exit earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement is approved by the UK Parliament. If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved in May, then the UK will exit on 01 June 2019. The extension will, however, lapse (and the UK will exit with or without a deal) on 01 June 2019 if the UK does not hold EU elections in May 2019. The government is currently trying to agree a Brexit deal with the Labour party leader that will enable it to bring the Withdrawal Agreement back to Parliament for another vote.

Earlier votes

On 10 December 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that it would be legal for the UK to unilaterally revoke Article 50 to cancel Brexit.

The House of Commons had been scheduled to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on 11 December 2018, but the vote was called off. The “meaningful vote” took place on 15 January 2019 and the government suffered a staggering defeat by 230 votes. The Labour party tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government which the Government won by a margin of 19 votes. On 21 January 2019, the Prime Minster outlined how the current Brexit deal might be amended.

On 29 January 2019, the House of Commons voted on seven motions with different forms of Brexit. Only two of them were passed: one which makes clear the House of Commons will not accept a no-deal Brexit but has no binding effect and is only symbolic. The other is to replace the Irish backstop with “alternative arrangements”. Mrs May then had to try to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement with the EU. If an amended deal could not be reached by 13 February, then MPs had another chance to propose alternative measures and vote on 14 February. On 14 February 2019, the government suffered another defeat and now has to try and renegotiate the deal without the backing of a majority in Parliament.

A further meaningful vote on a slightly amended deal was held and lost by a majority of 149 on 12 March 2019. On 13 March 2019, MPs voted against the UK leaving the EU with no deal. On 14 March 2019, they voted for the EU to be asked for an extension to the Article 50 period.

A third "meaningful vote" had been expected on 19 March but the speaker of the House of Commons has said that he will not allow another vote unless the Brexit deal is substantially changed. The EU had agreed that the UK could delay the 29 March Brexit date until either 22 May 2019 if MPs approved the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal by 11pm on 29 March 2019; or a shorter delay until 12 April 2019 if they rejected the deal. The EU had said that another extension beyond 12 April was only possible if the UK agree to take part in the EU elections on 23 May 2019. On 29 March, MPs rejected the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and the government had until 12 April to decide the way forward or the UK would have left with no deal on that date.

Draft Withdrawal Agreement

On 14 November 2018, the UK Government announced that it had agreed with the EU the provisional terms of a draft Withdrawal Agreement which sets out the basis on which the UK will leave the EU.

On 26 November 2018, the UK Government confirmed in a Statement that political agreement has been reached on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future UK-EU relationship and that a copy of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration had been laid before Parliament that day. This follows a Statement from the European Council and a Statement from the Government on 25 November 2018 confirming that the EU27 leaders had endorsed the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration at a European Council meeting on 25 November 2018.

This agreement will be an international treaty that sets out the terms on which the UK will withdraw from the EU. It includes provisions on:

  • citizens’ rights
  • separation issues to allow for a winding down of current arrangements
  • transition period
  • financial settlement
  • governance arrangements of the Withdrawal Agreement
  • Northern Ireland protocol, and
  • protocols on Gibraltar and Sovereign Base areas.

It recognises that the UK will cease to be an EU Member State on 29 March 2019. It will also withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) on that date.

The transition period runs from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 but can be extended once by mutual agreement. Any decision to extend must be taken before 01 July 2020 and can be for no more than one or two years. During the transition period, the UK will continue to be treated as an EU Member State and EU law will continue to apply in the UK in the same way as it currently does. This means that the UK will continue to participate in the EU Customs Union and the Single Market four freedoms (free movement of goods, persons, services and capital) will continue to apply. The UK will, however, no longer be able to participate in EU decision-making and will not have a vote. It will be able to participate in some meetings of EU bodies and agencies where necessary or relevant to the UK.

The UK Government also published an Explainer for the draft Withdrawal Agreement and one for the draft Political Declaration, as well as Explanatory slides on both documents. See also the EU Factsheet “Brexit Negotiations: What is in the Withdrawal Agreement?” for more information.

Background

On 28 February 2018 the European Commission published the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the UK, together with a Q&A factsheet. The draft Withdrawal Agreement is in six parts, which include introductory provisions, provisions on: citizens' rights; other separation issues such as goods placed on the market before the withdrawal date; the financial settlement; transitional arrangements, and institutional provisions, and a protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

See “European Commission publish draft Withdrawal Agreement: impact on civil jurisdiction and judicial cooperation” for some initial observations on those articles in the draft Withdrawal Agreement that are particularly relevant to the recognition of English choice of law and court clauses, English judgments and the authority of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

On 09 March 2018, following discussion of the 28 February 2018 draft with the Council and the European Parliament's Brexit steering group, the European Commission published an amended draft Withdrawal Agreement and submitted it to the UK Government for negotiation.

On 19 March 2018, the UK Government and the European Commission published a draft Withdrawal Agreement which includes the legal text agreed by the negotiators on the post-Brexit transition period. The transition period is expected to start when the Withdrawal Agreement comes into force (30 March 2019) and to end on 31 December 2020.

On 19 June 2018, the UK and EU negotiators published a joint statement outlining the progress made on the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement since the publication of the draft on 19 March 2018. The European Commission notes that, under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the progress recorded in this joint statement will be reflected in the withdrawal agreement in full.

On 24 July 2018, a White Paper was published by the UK Government which provides details on how the Government intends to implement the Withdrawal Agreement (once agreed) into domestic law. The Government is continuing to plan for all eventualities, including a “no deal” scenario (under which there would be no Withdrawal Agreement, and no transition period), until the Withdrawal Agreement is in place.

Future EU/UK relationship

On 14 November 2018, the UK and the EU announced that they had agreed a draft of an Outline Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future UK-EU relationship.

On 22 November 2018, the UK Government published the text of the draft Political Declaration.

On 26 November 2018, the UK Government confirmed in a Statement that political agreement has been reached on the Withdrawal Agreement which sets out the basis on which the UK will leave the EU and the Political Declaration and that a copy of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration had been laid before Parliament that day. This follows a Statement from the European Council and a Statement from the Government on 25 November 2018 confirming that the EU27 leaders had endorsed the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration at a European Council meeting on 25 November 2018.

The Political Declaration represents instructions to negotiators as to the scope and terms of the future UK-EU relationship. It will be turned into an international treaty or treaties during the transition period.
The UK Government stated that the Political Declaration’s aims are: “Ending free movement, Visa-free travel for tourists and short-term business visits, A free trade area for goods with zero tariffs, Fair and open competition, Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, Leaving the Common Fisheries Policy, Ambitious arrangements for trade in services, alongside new arrangements on financial services, Close relationship on foreign policy and defence, Cooperation on tackling crime and terrorism, to keep people safe, New and specific arrangements on digital, Market access for freight and passenger road transport, Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, and Efficient electricity and gas trade”.

Background

On 23 March 2018, the European Council adopted new negotiating Guidelines for discussions on the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. These guidelines set out the EU27's position on the elements that it would like to see included in the future EU/UK relationship, including a free trade agreement. These guidelines supplement the European Council guidelines of 29 April 2017 and 15 December 2017.

On 4 May 2018, the Department for Exiting the European Union and the European Commission jointly published a document setting out the topics for discussion in the negotiations on the framework for the future UK-EU relationship. The document sets out the discussions under four headings:

  • Basis for cooperation, which includes discussions on governance, dispute settlement and participation and cooperation with EU bodies.

  • Economic partnership, which includes discussions on goods, customs, agricultural, food and fisheries products, services and investment, financial services, digital and broadcasting, transport, energy, and the mobility framework.

  • Security partnership, which includes discussions on law enforcement and criminal justice; foreign, security and defence; and wider security issues.

  • Cross cutting cooperation and standalone issues, which includes discussions on data protection; co-operative accords in science, innovation/culture and education; and fishing opportunities

On 12 July 2018, the UK Government published a White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU including a proposal for the establishment of an economic partnership between the UK and the EU. It clarified that the future relationship is likely to consist of a number of separate agreements (many of which will facilitate trade in services) most of which will sit within a new institutional framework.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.