In the referendum of 23 June 2016, the majority of British voters expressed the will that the United Kingdom exit the European Union, 43 years after it joined the European Economic Community, as it was called at the time.
Following up on the vote, on 29 March 2017, the British Government activated the withdrawal mechanism provided for under Art. 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). The activation of the procedure officially kickstarted negotiations to agree on the terms of the Brexit on the basis of a Withdrawal Agreement, the first step in a complex process leading to the formal exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, scheduled at the end of the 2-year negotiation period, on 29 March 2019 and later extended to 12 April 2019 (in case of a No-Deal Brexit) or to 22 May (in case of the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement) and ultimately extended to no later than 31 October 2019.
II – The Brexit negotiation (2017-2018)
The first phase of negotiations was closed positively on 15 December 2017 and the European Council subsequently certified that sufficient progress had been made to open the second phase of negotiations.
The second phase of negotiations began at the very start of 2018, under Bulgaria’s 6-month rotating Presidency of the EU Council, and achieved a first important result last 19 March: at the end of an intense negotiating session, the parties reached an agreement on the rights of citizens, on the regulation of outstanding financial commitments, on the transition period and on other aspects of the separation, thus covering almost 80% of the scope of application of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Thanks to the efforts made between April and November 2018 (third negotiation phase), last 25 November 2018, the “Art.50” Special European Council meeting in 27-EU format gave green light to the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations, following the political approval of the Agreement by the British Government on 14 November 2018.
The Agreement provides for a transition period lasting until 2020. During this period, the status quo would continue, except for small corrections: the United Kingdom will have to comply with EU law and all the obligations deriving therefrom but – in its new Third State status – without the right to participate in the European Union’s decision-making process.
Within the framework of the Brexit negotiations, there are several issues that are and will continue to be of primary importance for our Country during the implementation phase. One of these is undoubtedly the status of EU citizens – and, among them, the status of Italian citizens – residing in the United Kingdom, as well as the status of British citizens residing in Italy. In this respect, the Government deems it to be essential that the Withdrawal Agreement concretely assure, after the withdrawal, the utmost protection of the acquired rights of Italian citizens who live, study and work in the United Kingdom. More generally, Italy, together with all its other European partners, has committed to assure as orderly a transition to post-Brexit as possible, in the interest of citizens and enterprises.
III. Withdrawal Agreement ratification process
Despite the positive developments issuing from the November agreement, on 15 January 2019, the British Parliament rejected to begin the formal ratification process of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement negotiated, with 432 votes against and 202 votes in favour.
A second so-called “meaningful vote” by the British Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement was held on 12 March 2019, again with a negative outcome (391 votes against and 242 in favour), despite the additional legal arrangements made in the EU-UK agreement on the Northern Irish “backstop” (emergency solution) agreed last 11 March.
During the parliamentary debate that followed on 13 and 14 March 2019, the House of Commons voted against the proposal of a No-Deal Brexit and in favour of extending the 2-year deadline envisaged in Art. 50 of the TEU.
Consequently thereto, in a letter dated 20 March 2019 to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Theresa May formally requested to extend the deadline established by Art. 50, from 29 March to 30 June 2019.
The “Art.50” Special European Council meeting on 21 March 2019 analysed the extension request of the British Government, agreeing to granting an extension to 22 May 2019, on condition that the Withdrawal Agreement be approved by the House of Commons by the end of the following week. Otherwise, the European Council said it would consent to an extension until 12 April 2019 and to wait for the United Kingdom to indicate, prior to that date, the arrangements to be made ahead of the scrutiny thereof by the European Council.
A third so-called “meaningful vote” by the British Parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement was held on 29 March 2019, again with a negative outcome (344 votes against and 286 in favour).
Following this vote, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced an “Art.50” Special European Council meeting on 10 April 2019 to discuss the next steps forward.
On 5 April 2019, British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk requesting a further extension of the deadline set in Art. 50 of the TEU to 30 June 2019, with the possibility of advancing the deadline in case the Withdrawal Agreement were to be ratified before the term indicated.
IV. Recent developments
Last 10 April, the “Art.50” Special European Council meeting granted the United Kingdom a “flexible” extension of the date of Brexit not beyond 31 October 2019, envisaging that if the Withdrawal Agreement were ratified by the Parties before that date, Brexit would occur on the first day of the following month.
Said extension – the second after the one granted by the “Art.50” Special European Council meeting of 22 March – gives the British Government more time to seek the necessary consensus within the Parliament to approve the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations, making the British Party responsible to seek a solution allowing for an “orderly exit” while, at the same time, enables the European Council to concentrate on other important issues on the EU agenda.
The EU27 agreed to delay the Brexit but with conditions:
- The UK must participate in European Parliament elections in May (so as to not interfere with the regular functioning of the EU Institutions) in case the UK is still a member of the EU at 23-26 Mary 2019 and in case it has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by 22 May 2019. If the United Kingdom does not fulfil this obligation, the withdrawal will occur on 1 June 2019;
- It will not be possible to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in November 2018 and rely on the extension to reopen negotiations on future relations (which can be open only once the United Kingdom has acquired the Third State status);
- The United Kingdom undertakes to respect the “sincere cooperation” principle, refraining from taking measures that could undermine the achievement of EU objectives, especially within the framework of the EU decision-making process;
- The European Council states its intention to examine the progress made at the next European Council meeting in June.
V. Future Perspectives
The extension of the deadline for the Brexit from the EU has, for the time being, diminished the chance of a No-Deal Brexit although it has not eliminated it altogether. Political discussions are continuing between Theresa May’s Government and the opposition leaders, which are hopefully expected to shortly reach a transversal political agreement on the Withdrawal Agreement and on the Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations and have it approved by the British Parliament.
The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations agreed between the EU and the UK last November continue to be the best possible instruments to guarantee an orderly exit of the UK from the EU, on clear terms for citizens and enterprises, and laying the grounds for a close future partnership post-Brexit.
As recalled in the “Art.50” Special European Council meeting of last 10 April, the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated. However, should the position of the United Kingdom change, Italy is willing – in a spirit of solidarity with the EU27 Countries – to reconsider the Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations consistently with the positions and principles laid down by the European Council.
I. Preparing for Brexit at EU and national level
Preparations and emergency measures for a No-Deal Brexit continue both within single member States and at EU level.
As highlighted in the European Commission’s last Communication of 10 April entitled: “Addressing the impact of a withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union without an agreement: the Union’s coordinated approach”, the European Union is comprehensively prepared for a “disorderly” exit through the coordinated adoption of emergency measures, both at EU level and within single member States.
The main areas addressed by the emergency measures – both at EU level and within single member States – span from the rights of citizens to transports, judicial cooperation and cooperation between police forces, safeguarding the integrity of the internal market, and the financial and fishing sectors.
These measures are based on three preconditions for future EU-UK discussions relative to the three principal aspects of the separation: a) protecting the rights of citizens; b) the UK’s respect of its financial obligations to the EU and c) its commitment to find an alternative solution to the so-called “backstop” (emergency solution) contained in the Withdrawal Agreement, in order to preserve peace in Ireland and the integrity of the Internal Market.
Last 14 March, Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi held a hearing before the Joint Foreign Affairs and EU Policies Committees of the Chamber of Deputies to report on the survey on the Brexit negotiations and their relative impact on Italy.
Last 5 April, the seventh meeting of the Task Force on Brexit was held at Palazzo Chigi to discuss the emergency measures in case of a No-Deal Brexit. In particular, the meeting took stock of the specific legislative measures passed by Italy in Decree Law N. 22 of 25 March 2019 to assure the financial stability and integrity of the market, as well as the rights of British citizens residing in Italy, and strengthening our consular network in the United Kingdom to assure assistance to the large Italian community residing there.
II – Rights of citizens
The agreement on citizens’ rights contained in the Withdrawal Agreement guarantees the acquired rights of millions of EU citizens at the date of the end of the transition period (31 December 2020), while at the same time granting ample time in which to apply for the so-called “Settled Status”, the new permanent residency certificate for EU citizens residing in the United Kingdom: the transition period (from the date of withdrawal to 31 December 2020) plus a further six-month “guarantee period” (until 30 June 2021). This is an unwonted result, mainly obtained through the initiative promoted by Italy.
The Italian Government, together with the EU and with the British Authorities, has committed to dialogue and supervise that the United Kingdom effectively apply the simplified and easy administrative procedures that it has undertaken to assure to our citizens, in order to spare them useless costs and red tape to have their acquired rights recognised in the United Kingdom. To this effect, Italy continues to monitor and survey the practical recognition of the so-called “Settled Status”, especially within the framework of the Home Office’s “User group”, to which our London Embassy belongs along with the representatives of the other 26 EU member States and of the European Commission.
Italy and the United Kingdom have had and continue to have an intense and fruitful dialogue on the need to concretely guarantee the acquired rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and of British citizens in the EU, with a special attention for the most vulnerable groups.
In line with the dialogue between the EU member Countries and the United Kingdom, there is a common commitment to afford the utmost protection to citizens’ rights also in the case of a No-Deal Brexit.
There are unilateral commitments and measures both on the part of the United Kingdom and of the EU member States that essentially aim to maintain the rights and benefits assured up to now to the citizens residing in the UK according to EU legislation or in the EU at the date of the withdrawal.
On its part, Italy has adopted a totally open approach thanks to the legislative measures contained in the aforesaid Law Decree 22 of 25 March 2019, which maintain the existing legal framework recognising the need of British nationals residing in Italy at the date of withdrawal to apply for and obtain a long-term residency status in compliance with Directive 2003/109/EC and to continue to enjoy such rights as access to healthcare, employment, education, social benefits and family reunification.
IV – Economy
As far as economic aspects are concerned, the European and Italian measures envisage interventions in the area of financial services, transports and border controls (ports, airports and customs).
Measures have been drawn up in particular at national level – also following up on the specific meetings held in November 2018 with the representatives of the businesses in the sector – to comply with the new legal framework in the major points of entry and exit of goods between Italy and the United Kingdom, to implement EU measures in the financial services and transport sectors, to inform users and operators and to assist companies in case of a No-Deal Brexit.
The emergency measures will not be able to completely eliminate all the negative effects of a No-Deal Brexit because the above actions will not be able to reproduce the benefits of being a member of the EU nor duplicate the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, but will materialise through temporary, unilateral and restricted interventions which will necessarily have to combine with the preparedness of the private sector.
EU citizens, businesses and the people concerned wanting to be informed on the consequences of Brexit, may consult:
- Statement of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers regarding the seventh meeting of the Brexit Task Force (April 5, 2019)
- DECREE LAW N. 22 of 25 March 2019 - Urgent measures to assure security, financial stability and market integrity and to protect the health and freedom of residence of the citizens of Italy and of the United Kingdom, in case of the latter's withdrawal from the European Union (25 March 2019)
- European Council Decision adopted in conjunction with the United Kingdom, extending the deadline provided for under Article 50, Para. 3 of TEU (22 March 2019)
- Press Statement by the Italian Prime Minister on the consequences and preparation for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (15 February 2019)
- “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, provides a general overview, sector by sector, on the consequences and arrangements if the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without an agreement
Press Release from the Office of 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” (8 february 2019)
Press release from the Ministry of Economy and Finance on the transitory arrangements to assure continuity in the functioning of markets and intermediaries in case of a “No Deal Brexit” (24 january 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office following the vote of 15 January 2019 on the Withdrawal Agreement (15 january 2019)
- Statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on the Italian Government’s activities to prepare for Brexit making reference both to the exit regulated by the Withdrawal Agreement and the No-Deal Brexit and, in particular, to the protection of citizens’ rights; (21 december 2018)
- 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 periodic updates on ongoing negotiations (“News”), on the questions that citizens most frequently ask the Italian Embassy (“FAQ”), on the documents of reference of Brexit (“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, illustrate the legal consequences of the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019 on various sectors of activities and on the principal 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 last 19 July.
- UK Home Office website, which makes available a document (“EU Settlement Scheme”) that sums up the requirements and the procedures through which EU citizens and their families residing in the United Kingdom can apply for and obtain resident status so as to legally reside in post-Brexit UK.
- the European Union's Europe Direct Contact Centre, at the toll-free number 00 800 67891011, on working days and public holidays, from 9 a.m to 6 p.m. (CET)