What does Brexit mean for Great Britain

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In almost a year of intensive negotiations, it has been possible to comprehensively reshape the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The partnership agreement negotiated between the EU and the United Kingdom provisionally entered into force on January 1, 2021, after all 27 member states had given their consent to the agreement and its provisional application. The European Parliament also gave its approval on April 27, 2021, so that the agreement could finally enter into force on May 1, 2021.

The trade and cooperation agreement puts EU-UK relations on a new footing. This is a great achievement. Never before has such a comprehensive agreement between the EU and a third country been agreed, and in record time.

Both sides, the EU and the United Kingdom, benefit from the agreement reached. Intensive cooperation and close friendly relations between both the European Union and Germany and the United Kingdom are essential, as the Bundestag emphasized in its statement of April 21, 2021.

The trade and cooperation agreement forms an excellent basis for this. In its statement of February 12, 2021, the Federal Council also emphasized that the agreement now provides a permanent legal framework that creates planning security for everyone affected by Brexit.

Which regulations have now been agreed?

The trade and cooperation agreement establishes, among other things, a comprehensive economic partnership. This is essentially based on a free trade agreement that does not provide for tariffs or quotas and thus avoids significant trade barriers. Such a partnership also needs fair framework conditions. That is why both sides have agreed far-reaching regulations to guarantee fair competition. This applies to the area of ​​state aid as well as standards in consumer protection, employee protection, and the environment and climate. The exact provisions, which have now finally been in effect since May 1, 2021, can be viewed in detail on the websites of the respective federal ministries and the European Commission. You can also find a brief overview in tabular form here.

But there could be no question of a real economic partnership if the future relationship did not extend beyond trade issues. The European Union and the United Kingdom have therefore also agreed on the framework for future cooperation in many other areas: These include services, professional qualifications, public procurement, environmental and energy issues, air, sea and rail freight transport, and regulations on social security or research and development. Under the agreement, the UK will continue to participate in a number of EU programs.

In order to take into account the close interdependence and geographical proximity of the European Union and the United Kingdom, the agreement also establishes a close security partnership. This enables future cooperation on justice and home affairs issues. In concrete terms, this means that both sides will continue to work closely together on the fight against crime, for example within the framework of Europol, and will coordinate the fight against money laundering, transnational crime and terrorism. In addition, the agreement regulates the mutual exchange of data, for example passenger data or criminal records. All of this will be done in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and a level of data protection comparable to EU standards.

Unfortunately, contrary to the wishes of the European Union, the agreement does not contain any provisions on cooperation in foreign and security policy. However, the EU and the United Kingdom remain important partners in NATO, the OSCE and the UN. The Federal Government continues to advocate close foreign and security policy cooperation with the United Kingdom, also within the framework of the EU.

On what basis did the European Commission negotiate all of this?

With the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on February 1, 2020, the withdrawal agreement previously negotiated between the EU and the United Kingdom came into force. The exit agreement already regulates important issues such as the rights of citizens. This agreement is accompanied by a Political Declaration in which the substantive framework for the negotiations on the future relationship was mutually agreed.

In accordance with the Political Declaration, the 27 EU member states agreed on February 25, 2020 on the negotiating mandate for the European Commission, which negotiated the future relationship with the United Kingdom on behalf of the member states. Under difficult conditions in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU and the United Kingdom negotiated continuously from March to December 2020. The European Commission coordinated very closely with both the 27 EU member states and the European Parliament. Most recently, both sides intensified the negotiations again, so that an agreement was reached on December 24, 2020.

What happened at the end of the transition phase? What preparations have been made?

The transition phase stipulated in the Withdrawal Agreement applied between the United Kingdom's exit from the EU on February 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020. It has given citizens, businesses and public administrations time to prepare for the UK's exit from the EU's internal market and customs union.

Since January 1, 2021, the United Kingdom is no longer part of the EU internal market and the EU customs union. This has fundamentally changed the relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom - regardless of the new trade and cooperation agreement.

The Federal Government had prepared itself comprehensively for these changes, which were foreseeable before the end of the transition phase and independent of the negotiations on the future relationship. Since the start of negotiations within the EU, the Federal Government has been in very close contact with the European Commission and the other member states and at national level with the federal states and all stakeholders (business, associations, citizens). It will continue to do so after the agreement comes into force.

The European Commission published an overview of the changes that occurred - regardless of the contract negotiations - in a communication on July 9, 2020 ("readiness communication"). Detailed information on the individual changes (e.g. travel, customs regulations, data protection law, industrial products, chemicals) can be found in the almost 100 sector-specific preparatory notices to stakeholders ("readiness notices") and are intended to support public administration, companies and citizens in getting to adjust to the changes.

An overview of the numerous information offers for citizens and companies can be found here.

What role does the exit agreement play?

Thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement, freedom of movement in the EU, i.e. the right to live, work, study and be socially secure anywhere in the EU and the UK, continued until the end of the transition phase. In addition, the rights of EU citizens who resided in the UK until December 31, 2020, as well as the rights of Britons who lived in the EU until December 31, 2020, are fully protected for life ; they can still live, work, study and enjoy social security in the UK or the EU.

These rights result from the Withdrawal Agreement; the resulting regulatory mandates are implemented through national legislation and measures. In Germany, on November 24, 2020, the law on the current amendment of the Freedom of Movement Act / EU and other provisions to Union law came into force, which takes into account the status rights of Britons and their family members entitled to free movement under the Withdrawal Agreement. Further information can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, for Building and Home Affairs.

The United Kingdom has no longer had a say in the EU institutions since leaving on February 1, 2020. Since then, British citizens have also been excluded from participating in European citizens' initiatives and no longer have the right to vote or stand as a candidate in local elections and elections to the European Parliament.

With the special regulation on Northern Ireland anchored in the Withdrawal Agreement (Northern Ireland Protocol), the integrity of the EU internal market is preserved; at the same time it is ensured that there will be no controls at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement will be fully respected. The regulation stipulates that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory, but that all relevant EU internal market rules will apply in Northern Ireland and that the EU Customs Code will be applied. The controls and customs levies required for this take place at the entry points of the Irish island in Northern Ireland. In December 2020, the European Commission and the United Kingdom agreed on exemptions lasting several months for the start of the application of certain control measures.

After the United Kingdom government unilaterally announced on March 3, 2021 that it would extend these exemptions from the control requirements for goods and customs for certain product groups, the European Commission initiated infringement proceedings against the United Kingdom on March 15, 2021. The UK now has until mid-May to comment on the European Commission's letter of formal notice.

At the same time, the Commission and the UK are working on a roadmap for the full implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to have clear, permanent rules for citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides for a joint committee in which the contracting parties, chaired by the Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič, and the responsible British Minister David Frost, exchange information on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

In addition, the Withdrawal Agreement regulates, among other things, the UK's financial obligations towards the EU.

The EU Commission answers further questions about the exit agreement on its website.