Brexit

On 23 June 2016, British citizens voted in favour of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union by 51.9%. On 29 March 2017, the UK invoked Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, announcing its intention to withdraw and opening, as a result, a period of two years in which, according to the Article in question, an Agreement on the terms of the withdrawal must be negotiated.

The negotiations on the withdrawal began on 19 June 2017. A number of key aspects were identified from the outset: matters related to the rights of citizens in the UK and the EU, the financial settlement of the contributions owed by the UK, the Northern Ireland border and other issues related to the separation.


After seven rounds of negotiations, on the 28 February 2018 the European Commission published the draft Withdrawal Agreement. This document translated the joint report of the EU and British Government negotiators on this first phase of negotiations into a legal text. After being debated by the co-legislative bodies of the EU, namely the Council (in its “Article 50 configuration”, in other words, without the presence of the UK) and the European Parliament, the draft was submitted to the UK for continued negotiations.


After intense negotiations, on 14 November 2018, the British and EU negotiators announced an agreement on the text of the Withdrawal Agreement and on the outline of the Political Declaration. On 25 November 2018, the European Council (in its Article 50 configuration, without a British presence) endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and adopted some statements to the minutes and a Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. This marked the end of negotiations at a technical level.


On both 15 January and 12 March 2019, the British Parliament voted against the Withdrawal Agreement. Given this situation, on 21 March 2019 the European Council approved an extension until 22 May 2019, provided that the House of Commons approved the Withdrawal Agreement the week following the Council meeting. In the event that the House of Commons did not approve the Withdrawal Agreement that week, the European Council approved an extension until 12 April 2019.


After a further vote against the Withdrawal Agreement by the British Parliament on 29 March 2019, an Extraordinary European Council meeting was held on 10 April 2019, which agreed an extension of Article 50 until 31 October 2019. After approving revisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was given Royal Assent on 23 January 2020.

 

At midnight on 31 January 2020 the UK left the EU, triggering the transition period that will end on 31 December 2020. On 25 February 2020, the Council adopted a mandate for negotiation for the Agreement on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which will cover such areas as fisheries, foreign policy, security and defence, public order and political and judicial cooperation on criminal matters, as well as future trade relations between the two parties. It will also establish the need to guarantee fair competition between the UK and the EU.


Over recent months, despite the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union and the United Kingdom have been negotiating the agreement that will govern the relationship between the two parties starting on 1 January 2021. During this period, under the Withdrawal Agreement, the EU’s acquis communautaire has continued to apply to the UK, although as a third party it has not participated in EU decision-making, nor has it had any institutional representation.


Throughout the negotiations, the team of EU negotiators led by Michel Barnier has supported the principles included in the mandate approved by the Council in the nine rounds of negotiations with the UK representatives. There has also been contact at the highest level between the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. 


These contacts at different levels continue to be held. Their aim is to reach an Agreement that will govern the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom starting on 1 January 2021, when EU legislation will no longer be in force in the UK.

 

Whether or not the Agreement is reached on the future relationship between the EU and UK, the end of the transition period on 31 December will mean very significant changes that will affect citizens, businesses and administrations.

Accordingly, the Spanish Government has, for a number of months, been engaged in an exercise of preparation and contingency planning, coordinated by the Presidency of the Government, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation.

 

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