Article – Future EU-UK relations: next steps
The UK leaving the EU is not the end of cooperation. Soon talks will start to determine how the two will work together on anything from trade to the fight against terrorism.
The EU and the UK face many of the same challenges such as climate change and terrorism and have much to gain from working together on these issues.
Although a withdrawal agreement has been negotiated, the deal mainly concerns protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, the UK’s financial commitments undertaken as a member state, as well border issues (especially the one between the UK and the Republic of Ireland).
Future relations will be part of a separate agreement. Negotiations on these could only start once the UK left the Union.
What the future relations agreement will cover
The issues in any agreement on future relations range from defence and the fight against terrorism to the environment, research, education and so on.
One of the key negotiations will concern the conditions and principles for future trade, including the questions of possible tariffs, product standards, a level-playing field and how to resolve disputes.
Citizens’ rights are protected by the withdrawal agreement. EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU have the right to continue living and working where they are now. This topic will remain a key concern for the European Parliament, for example regarding freedom of movement and health coverage for EU citizens in the UK.
Under the withdrawal agreement, there will be a transition period until the end of December 2020. During the transition period, the UK will still have access to the single market and be subject to EU legislation, although it will no longer be able to shape new EU laws. The UK will continue to contribute to the EU budget during the transition period, but will no longer have a say on the EU’s annual or long-term budget, which will be negotiated this year.
The aim is to conclude talks before the end of the transition period. The transition period can be extended upon request once, but the decision to do so must be taken before 1 July.
If no agreement is reached by the end of the transition period, the UK will trade with the EU under World Trade Organization rules.
How the negotiations work
Former commissioner Michel Barnier will lead negotiations on behalf of the EU, based on guidelines issued by the European Council. Barnier also led negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.
MEPs are able to influence negotiations by adopting resolutions setting out the Parliament’s position. Parliament has also set up a UK contact group, led by AFET chair David McAllister (EPP, Germany), to liaise with EU negotiator Barnier and coordinate with parliamentary committees that are involved.
Any agreement can only enter into force if it is approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Unlike the withdrawal agreement, it is also possible that the agreement on future relations will also have to be approved by national parliaments if it refers to competences the EU shares with member states. It will also need to be approved by the UK.
In a resolution adopted in September 2019, Parliament has already said that stated that negotiations on future EU-UK relations would require strong safeguards and level playing field provisions with a view to safeguarding the EU’s internal market and avoiding placing EU firms at a potential unfair competitive disadvantage, and that any free trade agreement that fails to respect such levels of protection would not be ratified by Parliament.
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