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.
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:
- In-depth analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement
- Q&As on the draft negotiating mandate on future EU-UK relations
- Website of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers regarding the Italian government’s preparatory work for Brexit
- Statement of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers regarding the tenth meeting of the Brexit Task Force (27 gennaio 2020)
- Statement of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers regarding the ninth meeting of the Brexit Task Force (October 1, 2019)
- Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Central Bank, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of Regions and the European Investment Bank - "Finalising preparations for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union on November 1, 2019" (September 4, 2019)
- Updated document “Preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019 without an agreement”, prepared by the Prime Minister's Office to provide a general overview, sector by sector, on the consequences and arrangements if the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without an agreement, updated to July 2019 (July 2019)
- Communication from the Commission 'State of play of preparations of contingency measures for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union' (June 12, 2019)
- Statement from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers relating to the eighth meeting of the Brexit Task Force (June 10, 2019)
- Decree-Law No 22 of March 25, 2019 on urgent measures to ensure security, financial stability and market integrity and to protect the health and freedom of residence of Italian and United Kingdom citizens in the event of the UK withdrawal from the European Union (May 20, 2019)
- European Council’s decision, adopted in agreement with the United Kingdom, extending the term set in Article 50(3) TEU (April 11, 2019)
- Conclusions of the European Council (Article 50) (April 10, 2019)
- Communication from the Commission 'Addressing the impact of a withdrawal of the United Kingdom's from the Union without an agreement: the Union’s coordinated approach (April 10, 2019)
- Communication from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers concerning the seventh meeting of the Brexit Task Force (April 5, 2019)
- DECREE-Law No 22 of March 25, 2019 - Urgent measures to ensure security, financial stability and market integrity and to protect the health and freedom of residence of Italian and UK citizens in the event of the UK withdrawal from the European Union (March 25, 2019)
- European Council decision, adopted in agreement with the United Kingdom, extending the term set in Article 50(3) TEU (March 22, 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the telephone conversation between Prime Minister Conte and British Prime Minister May (February 16, 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the consequences and preparation for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (February 15, 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the customs, port and airport emergency plans and the assistance and information for companies in case of a no-deal Brexit (February 8, 2019)
- Section of the Customs Agency’s website dedicated to Brexit
- Statement from the Ministry of the Economy and Finance on the transitional arrangements to ensure continuity in the functioning of markets and intermediaries in case of a no-deal Brexit (January 24, 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office following the British Parliament's vote of January 15, 2019 on the Withdrawal Agreement (January 15, 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister's Office on the Italian Government's activities to prepare for Brexit making reference both to the scenario regulated by the Withdrawal Agreement and to the no-deal scenario and, in particular, to the protection of citizens' rights (December 21, 2018).
- The online assistance service on Brexit dedicated to Italian citizens provided by the Italian Embassy in London and the Consulates General in London and Edinburgh, which will post regular updates on ongoing negotiations ("News"), on the questions that citizens most frequently ask the Italian Embassy ("FAQ"), on the Brexit reference documents ("Documents") and on preparing businesses ("Preparing for Brexit"):
- Notices on "Brexit preparedness" from the European Commission on the legal and practical consequences of Brexit, also in a no-deal Brexit scenario. The Commission's notices, which are regularly updated, outline the legal consequences of the UK's withdrawal from the EU on March 29, 2019 on various sectors of activity and on issues of interest, should no other withdrawal rules be negotiated. The picture is further completed in the recently published Commission Communication on preparing for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU of July 19 last.
- The UK Home Office's website, which makes available a document, “EU Settlement Scheme”, summarising the requirements and the procedures through which EU citizens and their families residing in the UK can apply for and obtain resident status so as to legally reside in post-Brexit UK.
- The Europe Direct Contact Centre of the European Union, at the free toll number 00 800 67891011, on working days and public holidays from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. (CET)