Opinion & Analysis

The EU-UK withdrawal agreement: Progress to date and remaining difficulties

Executive summary

With less than one year to go before the planned Brexit date of 30 March 2019, talks are continuing as regards the terms of the United Kingdom’s (UK) withdrawal from the European Union (EU).

Beginning in June 2017, the withdrawal negotiations have focussed on three key priority issues – citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the situation of Northern Ireland – alongside other ‘separation’ provisions (e.g. ongoing EU judicial and administrative procedures, Euratom related issues, data protection etc.). In addition, in December 2017, the European Council decided to begin negotiations on the terms of a transitional period as requested by the UK government.

On 19 March 2018, EU and UK negotiators announced that significant progress had been achieved regarding the draft withdrawal agreement: more than 75 % of the legal text had been settled, based on previous commitments undertaken by both sides in a joint report in December 2017. In particular, in the draft withdrawal agreement negotiators settled two of the priority issues in their entirety – citizens’ rights and the financial settlement; and importantly also approved the proposed transitional arrangements – to cover a 21-month period following the UK’s date of withdrawal from the EU until 31 December 2020. Furthermore, as regards the future governance of the agreement, it was agreed that a Joint Committee made up of an equal number of UK and EU representatives would assume responsibility for the implementation and application of the agreement. A few days later, the European Council (EU-27) welcomed this advance in the talks, which opened the door to discussions on defining the future framework of EU-UK relations, in accordance with the newly adopted European Council guidelines.

Despite these important steps towards reaching a withdrawal deal, divergences persist, particularly as regards two important elements: firstly, the jurisdiction and powers of the European Court of Justice (CJEU) as regards the interpretation and application of the agreement, as part of the dispute settlement process; secondly the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit. The EU and UK agreed in principle that the Protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland annexed to the draft agreement should include a default scenario, or backstop option, that would apply to the territory of Northern Ireland in the absence of any agreed solutions, with a view to avoiding the establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit. However, despite further talks in recent months the negotiators have yet to settle either of these issues, although some limited progress on other parts of the draft withdrawal agreement was announced in a joint statement on 19 June. The European Council meeting at the end of June welcomed this further progress from 19 June, but expressed its concern that no significant headway was achieved with regard to the backstop solution for Northern Ireland.

Negotiators are now aiming for October 2018 as the deadline for finalising the withdrawal deal, to allow time for the completion of approval procedures in the EU and the UK.

As part of these procedures, the European Parliament will have to give its consent to the deal. Having closely monitored the negotiations and provided input at every stage in the process, Parliament’s resolutions have particularly emphasised the importance of upholding citizens’ rights in the future deal, including throughout the transition period. Even with the part on citizens’ rights now agreed, Parliament will continue to monitor the negotiations and push for further rights to be included in the deal. As regards the remaining unresolved issues, Parliament has expressed support on several occasions for the Commission’s proposals.

Read the full report here