After 18 months of intensive negotiations between the UK and the European Commission, which negotiated on behalf of the other 27 Member States, an 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 agreement comprises two elements:
Firstly, the 585‑page Withdrawal Agreement, which 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. 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 (extendable once for up to two years), we are creating time for talks on the future relationship. This will provide the business sector and citizens with important planning certainty.
Secondly, the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which sets out the framework for the negotiations on future relations. 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.
What happens next?
The Withdrawal Agreement’s entry into force and thus an orderly withdrawal are a clear priority for Germany and the EU.
To this end – following the agreement expressed by the UK Government and the endorsement by the Heads of State and Government of the EU27 – the European Parliament and the UK parliament must approve the negotiated deal. Upon withdrawal, a transition period until 31 December 2020 (extendable once for up to two years), would enter into force, thus cushioning the impact of Brexit. Although the UK would no longer be a member of the EU or be represented in EU institutions during this time, it would remain bound to EU rules.
On the European side, the Withdrawal Agreement has been forwarded to the European Parliament for its consent in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. On the British side, the approval involves a two‑stage process. The House of Commons (lower chamber) must first approve the agreement in what is known as a “meaningful vote” before both chambers (House of Commons and House of Lords) undertake formal ratification. A first attempt to secure the “meaningful vote” on 15 January failed. This means that there is currently no consent on the UK side to the agreement reached.
If the Agreement is not ratified (“no deal”), the UK’s membership of the EU would end without a withdrawal agreement at midnight (CET) on 29 March 2019 under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (provided that an extension of the deadline is not agreed between the UK and the EU27). The UK would then be a third country as regards the EU, and EU rules (the “acquis”) would no longer apply to it.
How are we preparing for the possibility of a “no deal” scenario?
Since the summer of 2016, the German Government has been preparing for Brexit and making arrangements for all possible scenarios.
In view of the steps still needed for ratification, it cannot be precluded that the UK will leave the EU without an agreement. In the case of an unregulated or disorderly Brexit, contingency planning is very important in order to cushion the negative impact as much as possible. The German Government is thus currently paying particular attention to this scenario.
It is a priority for the German Government that the negative impact be cushioned as much as possible for those affected by Brexit. That is why it is particularly important that all affected citizens and companies in Germany keep themselves informed about the consequences of Brexit. All of them should prepare thoroughly and in good time for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
You will find further information on Brexit preparedness on the website of the Federal Foreign Office, which is the lead ministry on Brexit and responsible for coordinating the German Government’s preparations. A catalogue of questions and answers is available on the German Government’s Website.