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Brexit and the future relations EU-United Kingdom


Brexit and the future relations EU-United Kingdom



I – Recent developments and conclusion of the Brexit process

Following his victory in the race for conservative leadership in July 2019, new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the EU to reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement already concluded in November 2018 in order to find alternative mechanisms to the so-called "Backstop" for Ireland/Northern Ireland. As a consequence of Brexit, the island of Ireland hosts the only land border between the United Kingdom and the European Union, a situation capable of compromising the results achieved in the pacification efforts involving the two communities on the island. The backstop clause, contained in a specific Protocol attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, was therefore aimed at preventing in any case the creation of a "hard" border between the two parts of Ireland. However, the backstop as it was accepted by former Prime Minister Theresa May had contributed to the failure of the ratification process of the Withdrawal Agreement, as it encountered the opposition of certain political forces in the UK Parliament.

On 17 October 2019, a few days from the date of October 31 set for the withdrawal, the EU and UK negotiators finally reached an agreement on alternative mechanisms to the backstop. The European Council “Article 50” immediately endorsed the new agreement the same day. The compromise that led to the new Protocol on Ireland is based on the regulatory and customs alignment of Northern Ireland with the EU, in exchange for the possibility that the Northern Irish Parliamentary Assembly may decide in the future not to prolong the new regime (the so-called consent principle). This solution therefore transforms the previous backstop into a theoretically temporary but in fact potentially permanent solution (as it required the consent of the parties to overcome it), into a permanent but potentially temporary solution. Overall, it is a creative solution for the unique situation of Ireland. The system thus created is unprecedented and will have to be closely monitored during its implementation.

The European Council therefore adopted on 29 October 2019, in agreement with the United Kingdom, a decision ordering a further extension of the term under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) until 31 January 2020, the third such extension after those already arranged in the previous months. On the same day, the British Parliament approved the Government's proposal to hold early elections on 12 December 2019. The result of the vote awarded Boris Johnson’s Conservatives a solid parliamentary majority, which allowed the successful conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement’s ratification in the UK. With the parallel conclusion of the ratification process by the European Union, the Withdrawal Agreement could enter into force at midnight on 31 January 2020, ensuring the United Kingdom’s orderly exit and ending the Brexit process.


II - Brexit process: background and previous stages

With the referendum of 23 June 2016, the majority of British voters expressed their willingness for the United Kingdom to abandon the European Union, 43 years after its entry into the then European Economic Community.

On this basis, on 29 March 2017, the British Government activated the withdrawal mechanism provided for by article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Negotiations started to agree on the terms of Brexit with a Withdrawal Agreement, the expected first stage of a complex process that would lead to the formal exit of the United Kingdom from the EU at the end of the two-year negotiation period, on 29 March 2019. However, this deadline was extended twice: first between March and April 2019 and then for the third time at the end of October 2019 to no later than 31 January 2020 (see above, Part I).

The first phase of the Brexit negotiations ended on 15 December 2017 and the European Council subsequently certified that sufficient progress had been made to move on to the second phase of the negotiations. The latter came into full swing with the start of 2018. On 19 March 2018 the Parties reached an agreement on the issues of citizens' rights, on the regulation of financial issues, on the so-called transition period and on other aspects of separation, covering almost 80% of the subjects of the Withdrawal Agreement. Thanks to the developments between April and November 2018 (third negotiation phase), on 25 November 2018 the European Council “art. 50" gave the green light to the Withdrawal Agreement and the attached Political Declaration on the framework of future relations, after the political endorsement of the agreement by the British Government on 14 November 2018.

Despite the positive developments linked to the November 2018 agreement on the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, between January and March 2019 the British Parliament rejected its ratification three times. This deadlock triggered the events that ultimately led to the resignation of the conservative Prime Minister Theresa May on 7 June 2019 and the rise of the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson.


III - Next steps: opening of negotiations on future relations between the EU and the United Kingdom

The so-called transition period spans from 1 February 2020 (the UK's withdrawal date from the EU) until 31 December 2020. During this period the United Kingdom – although formally a third State – will continue to be bound by EU law, but without being able to participate in the Union's institutions and decision-making processes.

The transition period will coincide with the negotiations on the terms of the future EU-UK partnership. These negotiations will be officially opened with a decision of the EU Council which will simultaneously approve the negotiating directives the European Commission – as sole negotiator on behalf of the Union – will follow during the talks with London. While the previous phase based on art. 50 TEU was somewhat exceptional in its nature, the negotiation on the future partnership will be an ordinary – albeit certainly extremely important – association negotiation with a third State, whose legal bases are to be found in articles 217 and 218 of the TFEU relating to international agreements between the EU and third States/international organizations.

The negotiation will start simultaneously on all the sectorial strands and will be based on the same principles as the previous negotiation pursuant to art. 50 TEU (integrity of the European single market and its "Four Freedoms"; balance between rights and obligations; no "cherry-picking"; defense of the EU’s decision-making autonomy). Some areas, due to their relevance, are likely to receive special attention during the negotiation. This is the case in particular with trade. The EU’s ambition for the future trade partnership is to conclude a Free Trade Agreement that provides for zero tariffs and quotas. The FTA will have to be underpinned by solid provisions to protect the so-called level playing field in areas such as state aid, taxation and environmental and social protection, in order to prevent risks of unfair competition. Other essential elements of the new partnership will be, according to the Commission, internal and external security.


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I - Citizens' rights

Part II of the Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights guarantees the acquired rights of millions of EU citizens at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020), including by granting a large period of time to request the so-called "Settled Status", the new certificate of permanent residence for EU citizens residing in the United Kingdom: the transition period plus an extra six-month period (until 30 June 2021).

The Italian Government and the EU are committed to vigilate, in cooperation with the British Authorities, so that simple administrative procedures effectively apply to our citizens in the UK, in order to avoid them unnecessary bureaucratic burdens for the recognition of their acquired rights. Italy continues to follow closely the implementation of the "Settled Status Scheme" in the UK, in particular within the specific "User group" at the UK Home Office, where our Embassy in London Is represented along with the representatives of the other 26 Member States and the European Commission.

Of the approximately 370,000 Italians who officially reside in the United Kingdom, more than 291,000 obtained the right of permanent residence/Settled Status. The Italian diplomatic and consular network in the UK has been engaged in a wide informative action towards compatriots throughout the country for more than a year, both through national media and through ad hoc initiatives organized in cooperation with associations and local authorities.

At national level, the Government has adopted legislative measures to ensure, among other things, the protection of the rights of British citizens residing in Italy and above all the strengthening of our consular network in the UK and of the assistance towards the substantial Italian community residing there. The procedures for the reopening of the Consulate in Manchester have started, as well as a plan to strengthen the capacity of the Consulates General in London and Edinburgh, in order for them to cope with the considerable increase in the demand for services.

Italy and the United Kingdom have continued and continue to have an intense and fruitful dialogue on the need to guarantee the acquired rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and British citizens in the EU, with particular regard to the most vulnerable categories.

Additional information

For those citizens, businesses and other concerned subject who want further information on the consequences of Brexit and the new phase of the negotiations on the future relationship the following sources are recommended:









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