Questions & Answers - The Withdrawal Agreement

Nov 22, 2018

Q&A – the Withdrawal Agreement

600 pages of detail on citizens’ rights, the transition period, the divorce bill and the Irish border. What does it all mean for trade on the island of Ireland? 

The border conundrum – what is it?

The Irish border has been a sticking point in these negotiations with the UK wanting to avoid a hard border on the island while also being reluctant to detach Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK to facilitate that.  

How does the agreement solve the Irish border problem?

The agreement says that if the Irish border issue is not resolved after a transition period ending on 31 December 2020, the UK in its entirety (rather than just Northern Ireland which had originally been proposed by the EU) will remain in a temporary customs union with the EU.   

So no tariffs and checks?

Yes for most goods traded between the UK and EU. Different rules will apply to fish products.  There will be no tariffs or quotas or checks after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 and until such time as a free trade agreement or other trading mechanism is agreed between the sides.  This also means that the UK cannot apply lower customs duties than the EU does on products coming in from outside the EU.

This arrangement will remain intact until a new arrangement can be agreed to enable frictionless trade on the island of Ireland. 

What about North/South trade?

To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, Northern Ireland will temporarily sit in a separate regulatory environment to the rest of the UK which will mean it will have to follow EU rules on customs, VAT and sanitary standards for example.  If Northern Ireland wants to put goods on the EU’s single market, it needs approval from the EU.  As a result, goods can continue to trade freely north and south of the border. 

Can the UK leave the backstop arrangement when it wants?

No. The UK can only leave the backstop arrangement with consent from the EU.  

Can the transition period be extended?

Yes. The UK can apply to the EU by 1 July 2020 if it wishes to extend the transition period beyond the current end date of 31 December 2020.  There are reports this morning that Michel Barnier has said that this period could be extended by two years.

What about the Common Travel Area?

Both sides have pledged to maintain the Common Travel Area that exists between Ireland and the UK. This means that citizens from both countries can live, work and travel in both countries.

What happens now?

The EU Summit will take place on 25 November where EU member states will formally approve the agreement. Agreement was reached this week on the joint political declaration on future relations with the UK.. Then the UK government will need to hold a vote in the House of Commons on the deal.  

There are reports that this would need to take place in early December in time for the next scheduled European Council summit on 13 December and especially given the UK’s departure from the EU on 29 March 2019. The European Parliament will also need to ratify the agreement before the 13 December. 

If the withdrawal agreement is ratified by the UK and EU parliaments, a transition period will begin from that date and run until 31 December 2020. This will give more time to form a deal on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.  

Is a no deal Brexit still a possibility?

Yes. If the withdrawal agreement is not passed by both the UK and EU Parliaments by the end of the year, we may be facing into a no deal scenario as the leave date of 29 March 2019 approaches. 

The UK has published a Partnership Pack which is designed to support businesses if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.  

All documents on the withdrawal agreement can be found on the TG50 website.

Read all of our Brexit updates and Back to Brexit Basics on the dedicated Brexit section of our website.