On 10 April 2019, the European Council (Art. 50) unanimously and in agreement with the UK Government extended the deadline for withdrawal under Article 50 until 31 January 2020. The aim is to give UK policymakers more time to create clarity on important questions concerning adoption of the Withdrawal Agreement and the nature of the future relationship.
In its Conclusions, the European Council underlined that the UK must take part in the European elections in May if it is still a member of the EU at this time. Should the UK fail to uphold this obligation and does not hold elections, it will automatically leave the EU on 1 June 2019.
Furthermore, the European Council reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened, but simultaneously emphasised its willingness to adapt the Political Declaration under certain circumstances if the UK so desires. There can be no negotiations on future relations during the extension to what is known as the Article 50 deadline.
Finally, the European Council underlined its clear expectation that the UK adhere to the principle of loyal cooperation and in particular that it does not impede the EU’s further development.
What has happened so far?
Agreement was reached on 25 November 2018 between the Heads of State and Government of the EU27 and the UK Government at a special meeting of the European Council. This consists of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship negotiated between the EU and the UK.
The 585‑page Withdrawal Agreement lays down the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and includes key aspects of particular importance to us. Under this agreement, there will be comprehensive protection of the rights of our EU citizens who live in the UK and the rights of UK citizens who live in the EU; they can continue to live, work, study and enjoy social security protection there. The UK’s financial obligations are also laid down in the agreement. Furthermore, the Withdrawal Agreement safeguards the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and thus the peace in Northern Ireland that was painstakingly achieved 20 years ago. In accordance with the European Council’s guidelines, the Court of Justice of the European Union will play an important role in monitoring and implementing the agreement. By agreeing a transition period until the end of 2020 (which can be extended once for up to two years), we have also created time for talks on the future relationship. This will provide the business sector and members of the public with important planning certainty.
The Political Declaration on the future relationship sets out the framework for negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. The transition period laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement is to be used to formally negotiate the future relationship on the basis of the Political Declaration after the UK has left the EU. The Declaration essentially envisages an economic partnership and a security partnership.
Three attempts to secure the House of Commons’ approval of the Withdrawal Agreement (known as a “meaningful vote”), which is needed before formal ratification by the House of Commons and House of Lords can be undertaken, have failed so far. This means that there is currently no consent on the UK side to the agreement reached.
On the European side, the Withdrawal Agreement has been forwarded to the European Parliament for a vote in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. It can be ratified at any time.
Despite this, the German Government is at the same time continuing to prepare for a withdrawal without an agreement.
Cushioning as far as possible the negative impact for those affected by Brexit is a major priority for us. That is why it is particularly important that all members of the public and companies in Germany affected by Brexit keep themselves informed about what will happen. All of them should prepare thoroughly and in good time for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
You will find further information on preparations for Brexit, in particular a detailed catalogue of questions and answers, on the website of the Federal Foreign Office, which is the lead ministry on Brexit. Information is also available on the website of the German Government.