On 23 June 2016, the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union and on 29 March 2017, the UK notified
the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union
. The European Council adopted a set of political guidelines on 29 April 2017, which define the framework for the negotiations and set out the EU's overall positions and principles. Brexit negotiations
between the EU and the UK began on 19 June 2017.
On 14 November 2018 the Heads of State/Government of the remaining 27 EU Member States approved 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.
The UK’s membership of the EU was initially due to lapse on 30 March 2019, two years from the day it formally notified of its intention to withdraw from the EU. However, the European Council decided, in agreement with the UK, to extend the two-year period provided for by Article 50, until 31 October 2019.
On 17 October 2019, it was announced that the EU and the UK had reached a revised Withdrawal Agreement
, which includes a revised Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol
and a revised Political Declaration
. Under the revised Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland would remain aligned to certain Single Market rules, avoiding the requirement for a customs border on the island of Ireland, while ensuring that Northern Ireland remains part of the UK's customs territory.
On 28 October 2019, the EU agreed a further three-month extension to the Brexit deadline of 31 October 2019, making the new Brexit deadline 31 January 2020. On 24 January 2020, President of the EU Council, Charles Michel and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen both formally signed the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. This followed on from the legislation implementing the agreement receiving royal assent on 23 January 2020. On 24 January 2020, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson also signed the Withdrawal Agreement cementing the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January 2020. The Withdrawal Agreement was presented to the European Parliament on 29 January for ratification, which ensured the orderly exit of the UK from the EU at midnight on 31 January 2020.
As the Withdrawal Agreement has now come into effect, a transition period began on 1 February 2020. The UK is no longer represented in the EU institutions, agencies, bodies and offices but EU law will still apply in the UK until the end of the transition period.
This means the UK will continue, for the purposes of the movement of goods, as if it were a full EU Member State until the end of the transition period. The transition period is due to end on 31 December 2020, however it may be extended up to 31 December 2022 if agreed by the EU and the UK.
Part 15 of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019
came into operation with effect from 31 January 2020 at 11pm. This means that where the term ‘Member State’ is used in any enactment it should be interpreted as including the UK for the duration of the transition period created by the Withdrawal Agreement.
On 25 February 2020, the European Council authorised the opening of the future partnership negotiations with the UK. The negotiating directives adopted are based on existing European Council guidelines and conclusions, as well as the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the UK in October 2019. On 18 March, the European Commission published a draft legal agreement for the future EU-UK partnership
. This translates into a legal text, the negotiating directives approved by Member States in the General Affairs Council on 25 February 2020, in line with the Political Declaration agreed between the EU and the UK in October 2019.
On 20 May, the UK government published its plans
for how the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement would work.
The UK government confirmed it will not consider an extension of the Brexit transition period at the second meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee under the Withdrawal Agreement on 12 June 2020. During the meeting, both the EU and UK resolved to accelerate their work to implement the Withdrawal Agreement and agreed that the Joint Committee should meet again in early September 2020.
On 9 September 2020, the Irish Government published its Brexit Readiness Action Plan
to provide clear and concise advice on the steps businesses and individuals need to take in order to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. The Government also published the General Scheme of the 2020 Brexit Omnibus Bill
on the same day, which addresses a wide range of complex issues that will arise at the end of the transition period. Work is underway across Government departments on the detailed drafting of the Bill which will be brought before the Oireachtas in due course.
The UK government published the draft United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
on 9 September 2020 which, if adopted as proposed, would be in clear breach of substantive provisions of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Article 5 (3) & (4) and Article 10 on custom legislation and State aid, including amongst other things, the direct effect of the Withdrawal Agreement (Article 4). In addition, the UK government would be in violation of the good faith obligation under the Withdrawal Agreement (Article 5) as the draft Bill jeopardises the attainment of the objectives of the Agreement.
Vice-President of the EU Maroš Šefčovič called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee on Thursday, 10 September 2020 to request the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the serious concerns of the EU. A meeting took place in London between Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Following the meeting, the Vice-President stated, that the timely and full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, is a legal obligation. The EU expects the letter and spirit of this Agreement to be fully respected, as violating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations.