With the United Kingdom having left the European Union on 31 January 2020, our EU Law partner Dr Vincent Power outlines the key dates and events both up to now (to demonstrate how the situation has unfolded) and into the future (to show how it could unfold).
This timeline will help business leaders prepare for this dynamic and unprecedented scenario.
1 January 2021
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) entered into force.
28 February 2021
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has provisional validity until 28 February 2021 because it was not approved by the European Commission before it was signed so the agreement was given only provisional validity.
1 July 2021
The UK Government has decided to introduce its new post-transition border controls for EU goods imported into Britain in three stages culminating on 1 July 2021 to give industry extra time to make necessary arrangements. Given the changes involved (some of which are not yet known), it is not yet clear whether this will be enough time.
It can be expected that the EU and the UK will continue to negotiate treaties, agreements and arrangements to cover all manner of issues over time.
This is no different that the position of Switzerland which is continually negotiating agreements with the EU.
The main agreement would be the Relationship Agreement/Free Trade Agreement – how easy that negotiation would be will be depend on how the UK and the EU deal with this first phase (the Withdrawal Agreement) which has proved more difficult and tricky that most anticipated.
10-11 December 2020
The final scheduled European Council summit before the Transition Deadline of 31 December 2020. It would be convenient to have a deal approved at that meeting. Otherwise, there would have to be a further meeting (probably a virtual one) to agree the deal.
14 December 2020
The final scheduled plenary session of the European Parliament before the Transition Deadline of 31 December 2020. It would be convenient to have a deal approved at that meeting. A subsequent meeting would be very difficult given the Christmas break and COVID-19 travel restrictions.
24 December 2020
The EU and the UK announced that they had reached agreement on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). It was not signed or published on the day.
29 December 2020
The Council of the European Union approved the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on 29 December 2020.
30 December 2020
The EU and the UK signed the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). Somewhat symbolically, the TCA was signed by the EU Member States in Brussels but signed by the UK in London.
31 December 2020
This date was the scheduled end of the Transition Period. As the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) had been signed and had entered into force at 00:00 (Brussels time) on 1 January 2021, the Transition Period ended and instead the regime in the TCA took effect.
1 November 2020
UK deadline to respond to the EU's threat of court proceedings over the UK's Internal Market Bill
When the European Commission served formal notice on the UK of an alleged breach of EU law, the UK was given one month to respond to the allegation of a breach of EU law.
10-12 November 2020
To deal with various aspects of Brexit, the Irish Government has initiated draft legislation in the Irish Parliament. The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020 has been scheduled for Second Stage debate in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas) on 10-12 November 2020.
23 November 2020
A plenary session of the European Parliament which could be a useful opportunity to ratify any EU-UK agreement.
1 October 2020
EU serves formal notice on the UK about the UK's alleged breach of the Withdrawal Agreement
The European Commission served a formal letter on the UK alleging that the latter is in breach of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA). This is the first formal step in infringement proceedings in EU law.
The EU believes that provisions of the UK's Internal Market Bill offends the WA. The EU points to Article 5 of the WA which provides that the EU and the UK must each act in good faith. The EU says that the Bill contains provisions which would undermine the WA's Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.
The EU had given the UK until 30 September 2020 to withdraw the allegedly offending provisions. The UK did not do so. Therefore, the European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the UK. The latter now has one month in which to respond. If the UK fails to respond to the satisfaction of the European Commission then the latter would typically prepare a Reasoned Opinion and then if there was no change, institute proceedings in the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The tenor of the EU's feelings is clear from the pointed comment of the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen: "We stand by our commitments."
28 September – 2 October 2020
"Eighth" Negotiating Round
The "Eighth" negotiating round on the future relationship between the EU and the UK will be held in Brussels. This will be the last of the scheduled negotiating rounds before the October European Council Summit – at which the UK would no longer be entitled to attend. Major progress is not expected at these rounds of negotiations but they are a necessary part of the process and will fill in the details. We expect some fireworks during these rounds of negotiation.
2 October 2020
Conclusion of the Ninth Brexit Negotiating Round
On 2 October 2020, the EU and UK concluded their ninth round of negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship. The negotiations had been held between 29 September and 2 October.
The European Commission (charged by the EU with negotiating the agreement with the UK) issued a press release saying that there had been positive new developments on aviation safety, respect for fundamental rights and social security co-ordination. However, there was a lack of progress on climate change commitments, carbon pricing and the protection of personal data. Moreover, the Commission said that there was a need for an agreement on the level playing field (in particular, State aid and a commitment by the UK towards non-regression from climate, environmental, social and taxation standards). The Commission has also said that there is a need for an efficient governance framework, based on a comprehensive agreement, with robust enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms, and effective remedies. The Commission also highlighted that there is a need for an agreement on fisheries.
The UK Government stated that progress had been made on (a) the law enforcement agreement as well as (b) the structure of the overall partnership. However, the UK Government admitted that there were differences on (a) the "level playing field" and (b) fisheries.
The good news is that the parties are down to two issues: the level playing field and fisheries. The bad news is that the parties appear to have two different perspectives on what has been achieved. It is still possible for the parties to reach agreement. It may well be that the UK will concede on the level playing field and the EU will concede on fisheries. Objective observers can work out who would get the bigger deal.
15-16 October 2020
European Council Meeting
The October European Council summit will be attended by the President of France and the Prime Ministers of the other 26 Member States. It will be the first October summit without the UK Prime Minister. Brexit will be discussed but it will not be the centre piece of the discussions. Issues like COVID-19 and the economic recovery will probably prevail in terms of the agenda but Brexit will almost inevitably be part of the discussions
31 October 2020
Date set by the European Commission's Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and other EU officials for a deal but the date is not an absolute one so talks will still continue.
7-11 September 2020
"Seventh" Negotiating Round
The "Seventh" negotiating round on the future relationship between the UK and the EU is scheduled to take place in London. Negotiations are still proving difficult over issues such as (a) the "Level Playing Field"/State aid and (b) fisheries. Of the two, the "Level Playing Field"/State aid is much more significant – it affects every economic sector and would influence how the EU and UK economies would perform post-Full Brexit on 31 December 2020. The EU would be very reluctant to let an economy on its doorstep have free rein on State aid (e.g. grants, subsidies and so on) to undermine the EU economy. Equally, the UK should be keen that the EU rules apply and are not altered to deal with the Brexit scenario (e.g. to relax the EU rules to allow businesses in the EU get more State aid to combat the Brexited UK). Fisheries is more emotional than economically significant but will prove important towards the end of the negotiations.
8 September 2020
UK Minister admits in Parliament that the UK's proposed Internal Bill is about to breach International Law
On 8 September 2020, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Brandon Lewis) said:
"we are fully committed to implementing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and have already taken many practical steps to do so. The protocol was designed to maintain the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process, and to protect the interests of all people in Northern Ireland, and that is what this Government will do and will continue to deliver on. Throughout the last year, as we have taken steps to comply with our obligations under the protocol, we have always sought to honour both our international obligations and our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland."
Such a statement would have been unremarkable. However, a fellow Conservative Member of Parliament (Sir Robert Neill) asked the Secretary of State:
"The Secretary of State has said that he and the Government are committed to the rule of law. Does he recognise that adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable? Against that background, will he assure us that nothing that is proposed in this legislation does, or potentially might, breach international legal obligations or international legal arrangements that we have entered into? Will he specifically answer the other point: was any ministerial direction given?"
The Secretary of State gave a reply which brought the legality of the UK's proposed Internal Market Bill into sharp focus:
"I would say to my hon. Friend that yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way…."
This admission that the UK was going to breach international law and the Withdrawal Agreement brought the issue to a head.
9 September 2020
UK publishes the Internal Market Bill
On 9 September 2020, the UK Government published its Internal Market Bill.
The Bill, if enacted by the UK Parliament at Westminster, would regulate trade within the four countries of the UK (i.e. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) from 1 January 2021 (i.e. when the current transitional arrangements between the EU and the UK will expire).
It was controversial because the Bill would undermine the UK's obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement in regard to trade between Northern Ireland and the EU. In particular, the Bill is aimed at dismantling some of the key provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement which were designed to preserve the free trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Bill was criticised by all living UK Prime Ministers because it would breach international law.
28 September 2020
Third Meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee
The EU-UK Joint Committee was established to avoid disputes between the EU-UK over Brexit. On 28 September 2020, the Committee met for the third time.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said that his main message to the UK was the
"much-needed acceleration of the implementation work to prepare for the 1st January 2021 and on the need to ensure a full, timely and effective implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement."
On citizens, the Vice-President spoke of progress in the EU but some concerns about the position in the UK:
"while acknowledging efforts to register all EU citizens, I have raised our serious concern over the UK settlement scheme granting new resident status. In practice, it distinguishes between different categories of EU citizens with the same residence status – as such, it undermines legal certainty, also affecting their rights. We cannot have two classes of beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement."
On the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, the Vice-President said:
"the window of opportunity to put in place the operational measures needed for it to function is rapidly closing.
I have therefore reiterated the urgent need for the UK to accelerate its work on all aspects of the Protocol and in particular with regard to sanitary and phytosanitary controls; customs-related IT systems; and the registration of Northern Irish traders for Value Added Tax purposes.
We welcome that the UK is now engaging on some of the Joint Committee decisions that need to be adopted before the end of the year to fully implement the Protocol. But many difficult issues remain and the UK's positions are far apart from what the EU can accept.
I have repeated the EU's request to withdraw the contentious parts of the draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September. We maintain that the Bill, if adopted in its current form, would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Protocol, as an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and of international law.
The Withdrawal Agreement is to be implemented, not to be renegotiated – let alone unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Protocol is specifically designed to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and the achievements of the peace process, including avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. It recognises Northern Ireland's unique circumstances, allowing growth and prosperity to continue.
We are willing to work hard with the UK on these issues over the coming days and weeks. I have requested that the next meeting of the respective Specialised Committee takes place in early October at the latest."
30 September 2020
Deadline set by the EU for the UK to withdraw provisions of Internal Market Bill
The EU set 30 September 2020 as the deadline for the UK to withdraw what the EU saw as the offending provisions from the Internal Market Bill otherwise the EU would pursue the UK in the EU's Court of Justice of the European Union for an alleged breach of EU law.
17 August 2020
Round six of the negotiations to take place during the week commencing 17 August 2020.
18 August 2020
The Seventh Round of Brexit Negotiations commence in Brussels. Read about the agenda and the issues.
6 July 2020
Meetings of the EU and UK chief negotiators and specialised sessions during the week commencing 6 July 2020.
13 July 2020
Meetings of the EU and UK chief negotiators and specialised sessions during the week commencing 13 July 2020.
20 July 2020
Round five of the negotiations to take place during the week commencing 20 July 2020.
27 July 2020
Meetings of the EU and UK chief negotiators and specialised sessions during the week commencing 27 July 2020.
1 – 5 June 2020
The fourth and final round of negotiations before the June summit.
The summit did not achieve very much.
No “significant progress” – EU
Fisheries, fair and free competition, fundamental rights and governance are the key difficult issues according to the EU.
The EU accusing the UK of going back on promises.
“Round after round, our UK friends are distancing themselves from the [UK-EU] political declaration…I don't think we can go on like this forever“ - Barnier
UK was still committed to reaching a deal “in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year, and, if necessary, to allow ratification of any agreements reached” – Frost (the UK’s “Sherpa and EU Adviser”).
Still a long distance to travel and a deal is difficult.
Situation is not without hope but it will be very difficult.
3 June 2020
The UK's House of Commons Public Accounts Committee warned that COVID-19 could frustrate a successful Brexit preparation campaign in the UK due to the difficulties of having to run two publicity campaigns simultaneously on two critical issues.
5 June 2020
Summit meeting of the EU and the UK.
29 June 2020
Meetings of the EU and UK chief negotiators and specialised sessions during the week commencing 29 June 2020.
30 June 2020
The UK must indicate to the EU whether the UK wishes to extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020. Current expectations are that it will not ask for an extension.
11 – 15 May 2020
The third round of negotiations was also disappointing.
The EU expressed its hope that the UK would publish its text of a draft agreement.
Dialogue beginning on fisheries.
Lack of progress.
EU says: “Despite its claims, the United Kingdom did not engage in a real discussion on the question of the level playing field – those economic and commercial “fair play” rules that we agreed to, with Boris Johnson, in the Political Declaration”.
Disappointment generally that there was little progress.
20 – 24 April 2020
The second round of negotiations between the EU and the UK was also unsuccessful but was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 crisis in Europe.
They involved “surreal” discussions in difficult times but the EU said that the discussions were not “out of touch” given the short deadlines ahead (i.e., in particular, trying to have a deal in place for 31 December 2020).
The European Commission's Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said: “in recent days, the UK government has made clear that it would refuse any extension of the transition period. We take note of this choice. My recommendation is therefore that we work hard until  June  and think carefully about our joint response to this question of extension, taking into account the economic situation and the consequences of our decisions. Right now though, the consequence of the United Kingdom's decision is that the clock is ticking.”
2 - 5 March 2020
First Round of Negotiations between the EU and the UK. The first round had a long list of agenda items:
- Trade in goods
- Trade in services and investment and other issues
- Level playing field for open and fair competition
- Energy and civil nuclear cooperation
- Mobility and social security coordination
- Law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
- Thematic cooperation
- Participation in Union programmes
- Horizontal arrangements and governance
18 March 2020
The European Commission transmitted the EU's draft agreement to the UK. (The Commission had earlier consulted with the Parliament and the Council before doing so.)
3 February 2020
UK Prime Minister sets out his Brexit trade vision
On the third day after the UK left the EU, 3 February 2020, the UK Prime Minister set out his vision for the UK's relationship with the EU. It was a hard-hitting speech which pulled no punches.
Boris Johnson begun by saying that:
"Free trade is being choked…tariffs are being waved around like cudgels even in debates on foreign policy where frankly they have no place - and there is an ever growing proliferation of non-tariff barriers and the resulting tensions are letting the air out of the tyres of the world economy. World trading volumes are lagging behind global growth. Trade used to grow at roughly double global GDP – from 1987 to 2007. Now it barely keeps pace and global growth is itself anaemic and the decline in global poverty is beginning to slow."
The Prime Minister then turned to discuss the US-UK dimension. He announced that work would commence on the US-UK agreement. He said that the US already buys one fifth of UK exports. He believed that there would difficulties. He said that "the NHS is not on the table and no we will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards."
He then turned to the possible relationship between the UK and the EU post-Brexit. The two sides are commencing work on a new trade deal. It will be challenging to reach such an agreement. It may be the first time in history where two parties which had free trade between them, sit down to negotiate the erection of new barriers between them. At this stage, there are tough words being spoken on both sides. Boris Johnson was very emphatic in his views. He said that the UK would "not engage in some cut-throat race to the bottom" and that the UK would not "undermine European standards [or] engage in any kind of dumping whether commercial, or social, or environmental".
He was equally clear that there "is no need for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection, the environment, or anything similar any more than the EU should be obliged to accept UK rules. The UK will maintain the highest standards in these areas – better, in many respects, than those of the EU – without the compulsion of a treaty. And it is vital to say this now clearly because we have so often been told that we must choose between full access to the EU market, along with accepting its rules and courts on the Norway model, or a free trade agreement, which opens up markets and avoids the full panoply of EU regulation, like the Canada deal….."
It will be interesting to see whether and how this tough talking at the outset of the trade negotiations translates into action. We will not know for some time what will be the content and approach of the UK-EU trade agreement but it will be a difficult gestation.
European Commission chief Brexit negotiator sets out his Brexit trade vision
On the third day after the UK left the EU, the European Commission's Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, set out his vision. He was doing so on the same day as the UK Prime Minister was setting out his vision.
The European Commission issued a recommendation to the EU's Council to open negotiations with the UK to negotiate a new partnership with the UK.
Michel Barnier said: "we will negotiate in good faith. The Commission will continue working very closely with the European Parliament and the Council. Our task will be to defend and advance the interests of our citizens and of our Union, while trying to find solutions that respect the UK's choices.”
Barnier's sentiments matched those of the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who said: “It's now time to get down to work. Time is short. We will negotiate in a fair and transparent manner, but we will defend EU interests, and the interests of our citizens, right until the end.”
What happens now? The European Council will have to adopt the EU's draft negotiating rules on a possible new agreement. The existing agreement – the Withdrawal Agreement – has entered into force on 1 February 2020. There is, under the Withdrawal Agreement, a transition period until 31 December 2020. This transition period could last longer than the end of this year but the UK would have to ask for an extension and the UK has said that it will not do so. Moreover, The UK has legislated through national legislation to say that it may not ask for an extension. The EU says, by contrast, that negotiating such an enormous and unprecedented agreement in less than 11 months would be quite a challenge.
In some ways, the "easier" element of Brexit (i.e., negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement) has now been completed but the much more difficult element (i.e., negotiating the relationship agreement) has yet to start. Watch this space – it will be difficult.
20 February 2020
New Dáil Éireann to Sit following Irish General Election
On 14 January 2020, the Irish President dissolved Dáil Éireann – the lower house of the Irish parliament.
Exercising his powers under Article 13.2 of the Constitution, the President dissolved the lower house (which is, in reality, more important that the upper house or Seanad Éireann) on the advice of the Irish Taoiseach / Prime Minister.
The President has summoned the incoming Dáil to meet at noon on Thursday, 20 February 2020.
This means, somewhat curiously, that if there was any last minute emergency or issue relating to the UK's planned departure from the European Union on 31 January 2020, the Irish Parliament would not ordinarily be in session.
25 February 2020
The EU's General Affairs Council (i.e., the Foreign Ministers of the 27 remaining EU member states) approved the text of the negotiating directives for a new partnership between the EU and the UK (i.e., this is the EU proposed deal)
8 January 2020:
UK Prime Minister meets European Commission President
On 8 January 2020, the newly re-elected UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, met the newly appointed President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in London.
While they briefly spoke about their common school – the European School in Brussels where von der Leyen preceded Johnson – the main topic of discussion was Brexit.
The leaders discussed:
- the EU-UK withdrawal agreement
- the ratification process in the UK's Houses of Parliament and the European Parliament
The Prime Minister stressed:
- his priority was to implement the withdrawal agreement by 31 January 2020
- the UK would not extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020
The leaders discussed the Relationship Agreement between the EU and UK. The UK Prime Minister:
- said he wanted a broad EU/Canada-style free trade agreement between the EU and UK. The agreement would cover both goods and services as well as co-operation in other areas
- the Court of Justice of the European Union must have no role in the future UK-EU relationship
- the UK would have control of UK fishing
- the UK would have control of the UK immigration system
- the UK would ensure high standards in regard to employment, the environment, agriculture and animal welfare
The UK Prime Minister described the meeting as "positive". He wanted a positive new UK and EU partnership, based on friendly cooperation, the shared history, interests and values. Such optimistic and warm words are relatively easy at this stage given that the negotiation process has yet to commence in earnest.
The European Commission President spoke about the relationship being one of "old friends, new beginnings". She stressed that the EU fully respects the decision by the UK to leave the EU but the decision brings with it consequences, as no relationship can be as close as being a member of the EU. The EU will, the President said, negotiate in good faith, in the framework of the Political Declaration, with the aim of achieving the best possible outcome. She stressed that time is short for such an agreement to be reached and then ratified before the end of 2020. The President made clear that there is a trade-off between any regulatory divergence and access to the EU market.
The Brexit negotiation process is beginning again. While some of the players have changed (Theresa May has been replaced by Boris Johnson while Jean Claude Juncker has been replaced by Ursula von der Leyen), Michel Barnier will still be centre stage. While much may have changed, much will remain the same.
9 January 2020
UK's House of Commons passes the Withdrawal Agreement Bill 2019-2020
On 9 January 2020, the UK's House of Commons passed the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20 (WAB). Despite over 100 amendments being tabled, the WAB was passed unchanged.
The WAB has now passed to the House of Lords. It has already had its first reading. The current timetable in the House of Lords is:
- 13 January 2020: Second Reading
- 14, 15 and 16 January 2020: Committee Stage - this will be a committee of the whole House of Lords
- 21 January 2020: Report State
- 21 January 2020: Third Reading
If the House of Lords approves the WAB then it returns to the House of Commons.
The WAB must be approved by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The bill passed by both houses must then receive Royal Assent.
It the WAB is enacted and given Royal Assent by 31 January 2020 then the UK may leave the EU as (re)scheduled on 31 January 2020.
If the WAB has not been enacted and given Royal Assent by 31 January 2020 then the UK would not be able to leave the UK on 31 January 2020 with the current deal but would have to leave without a deal, seek (and be granted) an extension or revoke the Article 50 notice. The current expectation is that the WAB would be enacted.
27 January 2020
Question: What will happen on Friday night?
Answer: A false Brexit
It has finally arrived.
On Friday night next, 31 January, the United Kingdom is expected to leave the European Union after 47 years and one month of membership. Boris Johnson was eight years old when the UK joined while Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar had not even been born.
The UK is scheduled to leave at 11pm/23:00 GMT on Friday night – ironically, Brussels will have the last laugh because the UK has to leave on Belgian time and not UK time.
It will have been a long 1318 days between the Referendum and Brexit. The former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson (the only UK Prime Minister to win an EU-related referendum) said in 1964 that a week is a long time in politics. Well, 188 weeks since the Referendum have been very long (almost tedious) – seeing three UK Prime Ministers, two UK General Elections, three UK Parliaments and a range of deadlines for the UK to leave.
The UK is only partially leaving on Friday night. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, most of EU law continues in place until (at least) 31 December 2020. So it is more like a 'false' Brexit than a real one. It means that when people wake up on Saturday morning next, 1 February, and ask "nothing has changed, what was all the Brexit excitement about?", they need to be careful. The real impact has been postponed until 1 January 2021 or whenever the transition period expires.
During the 11 months from 1 February 2020 to 31 December 2020 inclusive, most of the same EU rules apply to the UK. The EU rules apply to the UK but it will not be a member of the EU. It will be a rule-taker but not a total stranger. So, it will not be a real and total Brexit.
The UK may ask for the transition period to be extended beyond 31 December 2020 but it must ask for the extension on or by 30 June 2020. The UK Government has said that it will not ask for such an extension.
Business should now assume that the UK is leaving to the EU and any earlier reluctance to spend time on planning needs to be set aside. The 'phony war' is over. In particular:
- Once the UK leaves on Friday night then it has no quick way back into the EU. Under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, the UK would have to re-apply in the normal way for membership. Having been a member once should help any application to re-join a little but it would also make the remaining member states hesitant and concerned about the UK's commitment to stay.
- Businesses should take time to examine the Withdrawal Agreement and see how it impacts them: One should consider the following:
- - Part Two on citizens' rights – this is important in the context of employees and their families both in the UK and in the EU
- - Part Three, Titles I-III – trade between the UK and the EU during the transition period and a much greater element of last minute stockpiling or movement of goods at the end of the transition period to get goods "into circulation" in the EU or the UK as the case may be
- - Part Two, Title III - dealing with social security systems (particularly relevant for employees)
- - Part Two, Title II, Chapter Three – dealing with professional qualifications
- - Part Three, Title IV – intellectual property
- - Part Three, Title VI – ongoing judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters
- - Part Three, Title VII – data
- Brexit is clearly a legal process and appropriate legal advice should be sought
- Businesses which have trade between the UK and Ireland should study the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The overall Withdrawal Agreement agreed by the Johnson Government is not very different at all from the one agreed by the May Government but there were some changes in this protocol and they will need to be monitored carefully. A possible flashpoint in coming years could be the willingness of all parties to ensure compliance with the checks and balances contemplated by this protocol.
In essence, this relationship is ending but the UK is staying in the house for another eleven months under the same 'house rules' while they try to work out a new "Relationship Agreement". Trying to work out the new "Relationship Agreement" will be even more tedious and more difficult than concluding the Withdrawal Agreement. The easier bit is over.
31 January 2020
Following the achievement of an overall majority for the Conservative Party in the House of Commons and the promise made by all Conservative Party candidates to support the Revised Withdrawal Agreement, it is now very likely that the UK will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020. The UK Parliament still has to approve the Revised Withdrawal Agreement.
While the UK Government is hoping for a trade deal to be completed between the UK and the EU by 31 December 2020, it is very unlikely that a comprehensive agreement would be possible in such a timeframe – it may be that a slimmed down version would be possible but a full-blown radically different agreement would be both unprecedented and unlikely in the space of 11 months.
Parties to the Revised Withdrawal Agreement (UK and EU Member States) complete their ratification
UK leaves the EU - 23:00 (GMT) on 31 January 2020
Withdrawal agreement would enter into force - 00:00 (GMT+1) on 1 February 2020
UK leaves the EU
The UK left the European Union (EU) at 11pm (GMT / London time) on Friday, 31 January 2020. The reason why the UK left at 11pm (and not at midnight) was because, in this context, time is measured on the basis of the time in Brussels.
The event in London was relatively low-key. There was a private party at No. 10 Downing Street but there was no major official event which was quite revealing. Ironically, there were events in Brussels organised by the city to recognise the contribution of the UK and UK citizens to Brussels, Belgium and the EU.
In some ways, the departure was somewhat of a "false Brexit" because while the UK has left the EU, many (but not all) of the EU rules still continue to apply to the UK so the impact was not as dramatic as one might have expected.
Past events in 2019
16 September 2019:
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with European Commission President Juncker and European Commissioner Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier. PM Johnson also pays a courtesy visit on Luxembourg's Prime Minister.
No one should have expected any major breakthrough at this meeting. It was too early in the process - and any deal agreed that early could be easily undone in the 45 days before 31 October 2019. This was more a "getting to know you better" session. It is worth recalling that Jean-Claude Juncker will be stepping down as President of the European Commission on 31 October 2019 but Michel Barnier will continue in office as the European Commission Brexit Negotiator.
The solo press conference by Luxembourg's Prime Minister exhibited an annoyance by some EU leaders about how this "party political" issue in one Member State is clouding EU progress. The key lesson is that an extension will not be easy to obtain, but it would be harder to refuse.
17 September 2019:
a) UK Supreme Court case on prorogation of Parliament commences in London.
This case is for the UK Government to lose. The starting point by most courts is that "political" decisions are not "justiciable" (i.e., political decisions are not subject to review by a court). However, the full Supreme Court might make a subtle distinction that the right to request prorogation is ordinarily a political manner (and not justiciable) but, in this case it is justiciable and then decide how it was exercised in this case was a legal issue and therefore capable of review.
If the Supreme Court were to find that the UK Government and the UK Prime Minister acted inappropriately then the consequences could be profound. If the UK Supreme Court upholds the prorogation of parliament (i.e. suspension of parliament) and thereby disagrees with the Scottish Inner Court of Session then Scottish nationalists will highlight the differences between the way things are done in Scotland and the way they are done in London.
The Supreme Court heard from counsel for the appellants, counsel for the respondents and those intervening in appeals. The hearings were held between 17-19 September 2019 with judgment(s) to follow early in the week of 23 September. It may be that the Supreme Court does not issue a unanimous judgment but gives a split decision which could be quite divisive. It would be well worth watching how the Supreme Court deals with the twin issues of (a) justiciability of the prorogation (i.e. is it a matter for the courts) and (b) if it is justiciable, whether the exercise of the power was lawful. The first question will have longer term consequences for the UK. The second question, depending on how it is answered, could have significant short term consequences.
b) Ireland's lower house of parliament, Dail Éireann, resumes after the Summer break
It is anticipated that the unity among the Irish political parties will be sustained. However, any concession by the Irish Government on the current backstop could result in some criticism from some other political parties.
The Irish Government will be heartened by the steadfast support for Ireland from the other Member States. The EU is showing the being a "small" Member State is not an obstacle in a curious rebalancing of international diplomacy.
18 September 2019:
Commission President Juncker indicates some flexibility on the Backstop
In the European Parliament, President Juncker indicated that the European Commission has no emotional attachment to the Backstop which could indicate that an alternative measure which had equivalent effect could be considered.
It may be difficult to achieve such an alternative in the timetable but there could be some room for manoeuvre.
19 September 2019:
UK has reportedly has tabled written proposals
European Council Summits are usually preceded by detailed negotiations, consideration of "papers" and even "non-papers" as well as negotiations. The UK is reported to have finally tabled "non-papers" and this could facilitate a deal. (A non-paper is a paper which is non-binding and does not limit the room for manoeuvre on the part of the entity which is tabling it.)
24 September 2019
UK Supreme Court Judgement
In a unanimous judgment, the 11-member UK Supreme Court held that the Prorogation of the UK Parliament was:
- justiciable – and therefore the decision to prorogue (i.e., suspend parliament) is susceptible to judicial review by the court; and
- unlawful – breached the law.
It means that the UK Parliament was never prorogued so it is expected to resume sitting on 25 September 2019.
A further prorogation is not impossible to cover the UK Conservative Party conference but it would be very controversial.
Whatever happens, the days remaining before 31 October 2019 are going to become even more uncertain and unstable. This judgment does not stop Brexit or stop the UK leaving on 31 October 2019. However, it means that there will be greater scrutiny of the Government's actions by Parliament and there could be further legislation adopted relating to Brexit. The chances of Brexit being delayed before 31 October 2019 have increased slightly (rather than there being a No-Deal Brexit) unless a deal is reached between the UK and the EU The chances of a deal are dependent on real, substantive and "legally operational" proposals being tabled by the UK – it might well be the case that the EU will say that such proposals were not tabled on time by the UK. Business leaders should expect continued uncertainty in the 37 days between now and 31 October 2019.
25 September 2019
Westminster Parliament to resume after its prorogation on 10 September 2019
Parliament to resume on 25 September 2019 following the judgment of the UK Supreme Court that the prorogation of 10 September 2019 was unlawful.
Anticipate intensive questioning of Ministers and the Prime Minister on Brexit-related matters. Topics are expected to include progress (or lack of it) in the negotiations with the EU, the Yellowhammer documents which were published in part on 11 September 2019 and plans for the European Council Summit.
29 September 2019 - 2 October 2019:
UK Conservative Party Conference
This meeting in Manchester is important in the EU timetable. Conservative Party conferences have been important in the Brexit process (e.g., the announcement at the 2016 Conference in Birmingham by Theresa May that the Article 50 notice would be served no later than the end of March 2017).
While there may be pressure to do a deal with the EU, there may be political advantage for Boris Johnson's Government not to have "done the deal" by the time of the conference to avoid criticism and dissension.
2 October 2019:
Boris Johnson presented to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, the UK's latest proposal.
The proposal represents some progress but it will not be seen by the EU or the Remaining 27 Member States as the "landing space" that Boris Johnson believes. It is unlikely to be acceptable to the EU unless there are further material amendments to it by the UK.
There is some time left to discuss and amend the proposal but a final deal has to clear two fences: approval by the EU (in particular the European Council and the European Parliament) and approval by Westminster – neither is certain.
9 October 2019 - 13 October 2019:
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated a desire to have Parliament prorogued by the Queen from the evening of 8 October until 14 October.
Parliament would then commence a new session with a Queen's Speech on 14 October.
If there were to be a General Election in, say, November 2019, then it would be unusual to have a Queen's Speech so close to a General Election. This is because a Queen's Speech usually sets out the legislation which would be before the parliamentary session which the Queen is opening.
14 October 2019:
The Queen's Speech will be delivered setting out the policies and aims for the next session of Parliament.
This was originally the date on which the Westminster Parliament was to be recalled after prorogation but the prorogation was declared unlawful on 24 September 2019 by the UK Supreme Court.
Anticipate intensive questioning of Ministers and the Prime Minister on Brexit-related matters. Topics are expected to include progress (or lack of it) in the negotiations with the EU, the Yellowhammer documents which were published in part on 11 September 2019 and plans for the European Council Summit.
17 and 18 October 2019:
Scheduled European Council Summit meeting in Brussels
This is the last scheduled European Council summit before 31 October 2019. The UK says that it is aiming to have an exit deal agreed at this Summit meeting. This is possible but optimistic. European Council summit meetings can run on late and even be adjourned and resumed later.
If the UK wants to have something agreed at the summit of 17-18 October 2019 then it cannot realistically hope to table the proposals at the meeting itself because that would be seen as "hijacking" the process. Typically, various aspects of such meetings are "tabled" well in advance and agreed by the "Sherpas" so a last minute deal is more difficult. The nuances and niceties of a deal could certainly be agreed but the broad principles would need to be worked out in advance.
Given the terms of the European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019, the effect of a long summit meeting may well be that there would be a breach of the Act if an extension is not sought.
19 October 2019:
The European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019 could be triggered
The Act provides that if (a) the UK does not agree a deal with the EU or (b) the UK agrees a deal with the EU but the UK Parliament does not approve the deal then the UK Prime Minister must submit a request to the European Council for an extension to the date on which the UK would leave the EU.
Technically, a Minister must lay before each House of Parliament a statement that the UK has concluded an agreement with the EU under Article 50 and a copy of the agreement and —
- the agreement has been approved by resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister, and
- a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the agreement has been tabled in the House of Lords by a Minister of the Crown and the House of Lords has not objected.
19 October 2019 is so close to the date of the European Council summit meeting - because the summit could well run over – the Act could be triggered. There could be litigation and controversy about this Act and how it operates.
21 October 2019:
On 19 October 2019, after a day in the House of Commons which the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have found frustrating (because the Meaningful Vote on his Revised Withdrawal Agreement did not take place), the Prime Minister sent an unsigned letter to the President of the European Council.
The letter was in the format prescribed by the UK's "European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019" – the Benn Act. This would ordinarily be seen as an application to extend the period of notice given to the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
What made the letter somewhat unusual was that it was unsigned and was accompanied by a signed letter from the Prime Minister which sought to undermine it.
Will the EU accept the unsigned letter?
In all probability, the European Council has the ability, legally, to accept it. EU Regulations, Directives and Decisions are published in the Official Journal of the European Union without a signature and just with the typed name of a person approving it. Equally, the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union have the typed names of the judges but no signatures. However, treaties are usually printed with copies of signatures. So, it is quite likely that the "pretence" that the Prime Minister did not really send it will not work at the EU level – particularly, as the Prime Minister wrote an accompanying signed letter seeking to undermine it. It is possible that a different result could be reached at the UK national level – e.g., in the Scottish courts - but the EU would hardly trigger a No Deal Brexit by saying that the letter was invalid because it was not signed.
Will the EU extend?
Quite likely. The EU has gone to great lengths to avoid being blamed for, or pushing the UK into, a No Deal Brexit. So, the European Council will probably extend the notice period. The current extension runs out on 31 October 2019. This was when the current Juncker Commission was due to step down but it will not be replaced until 1 December 2019 (or later) as three nominees have been rejected by the European Parliament. The European Council might extend until 30 November 2019 but it could:
- extend until much longer – the UK does not have to use the time available – or
- not refer to a date but refer to an event or process
So, it is quite likely that there would be an extension and a longer (rather than shorter) extension would avoid this false deadline syndrome continuing unnecessarily – which would be good for society and business.
21 - 27 October:
Expected debate in the House of Commons, but approval would be needed on 19 October 2019 under the European Union Withdrawal (No.2) Act 2019
24 October 2019:
Michel Barnier appointed lead the EU’s new Brexit Phase-Two Task Force
The taskforce is to be known as the ‘Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom' ("UKTF"). It will be part of the European Commission's Secretariat-General.
While there will have been several Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State for Exiting the European Union and senior officials on the UK side, Michel Barnier has been a continuous presence on the EU side of the negotiations.
There will, however, be some changes on the EU side. For example, Jean-Claude Juncker will be replaced as President of the European Commission by Ursula von der Leyen, while Donald Tusk will be replaced as President of the European Council by Charles Michel. But Michel Barnier will remain in place. Such continuity in terms of knowledge and appreciation of all the issues could be invaluable.
The new UKTF will include the current TF50 ('Task Force for the Preparation and the Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU') and the Secretariat-General's ‘Brexit Preparedness' unit.
The UKTF will:
- coordinate the European Commission's work on all strategic, operational, legal and financial issues related to Brexit
- take charge of the finalisation of the Article 50 negotiation
- continue work on No-Deal Brexit preparations
- work on the future relationship negotiations with the UK.
The new regime will take effect on 16 November 2019. This is irrespective of whether the UK will still be an EU Member State or not on that date.
Interestingly, the European Commission has put a date on when its work will start – 16 November 2019 – but no one has set a date for when its work will be completed.
Indeed, its work will probably last as long as the EU and the UK exist – unless the UK leaves and seeks to re-join when there will be an Article 49 Task Force established to deal with the UK re-accession. A lesser-known provision in Article 50 is its fifth paragraph: "if a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to re-join, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49." In other words, it has to go through the full application procedure and unanimity is required among all then existing Member States to allow the Member State to re-join.
Those involved in Brexit now should take note: that leaving may be difficult, but re-joining may be impossible.
31 October 2019:
This is the date set by the EU27 on 10 April 2019 under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union for the UK leaving the EU. (The EU27 are the EU Member States other than the UK.)
31 October 2019 was the date chosen at its meeting on 10 April 2019 by the European Council as the extension.
The date was apparently chosen because the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission are scheduled to step down on 31 October 2019 as new Presidents will be appointed with effect on 1 November 2019. Ironically, the EU institutions are typically closed on 1 November 2019 ("All Saint's Day"). It is notable that the date of 31 October 2019 was chosen by the EU and not the UK.
As it happens, the President of the European Commission will not now be expected to step down until, it is widely believed, 1 December 2019 due to the European Parliament having some difficulties over three nominees for the incoming European Commission.
Moreover, the UK is now unlikely to be leaving the EU on 31 October 2019 because the Revised Withdrawal Agreement has not been approved by the UK.
It is still theoretically possible that the UK could leave the EU on 31 October 2019- by default because that is when the extension adopted on 10 April expires - but the UK has asked for an extension of its notice period and it is very likely that the European Council (comprised of the 27 remaining EU Member States) will grant the extension.
1 November 2019:
If the UK leaves on 1 November 2019 then this would be the first date of UK outside the EU since the UK acceded to the European Communities 43 years ago on 1 January 1973. However, it is not now likely that the UK will have left the EU by then.
Ursula von der Leyen's Commission was expected to take office on 1 November but it is now expected that she will not take up office until 1 December 2019. Michel Barnier would remain in place at the European Commission's Brexit Negotiator.