Withdrawal Agreement

The draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) is a proposed agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union on how to implement Brexit. It covers such matters as money, citizens rights, border arrangements and dispute resolution. It also contains a transition period and an outline of the future relationship between the UK and the EU. Published on 14 November 2018, it was a result of the Brexit negotiations.
The agreement was endorsed by the leaders of the 27 remaining EU countries and the UK Government led by Prime Minister Theresa May but faced opposition in the UK parliament, whose approval was necessary for ratification. On 10 December 2018, May deferred the vote scheduled on 11 December, because she thought it “would be rejected by a significant margin”.
On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons rejected the withdrawal agreement by a vote of 432 to 202. The Agreement was rejected again on 12 March 2019 by the House of Commons on a vote of 391 to 242 and rejected a third time of 29 March 2019 by 344 votes to 286.

Closely connected to the withdrawal agreement is a political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU.

See: Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union (PDF)



The withdrawal agreement, which runs to 599 pages, covers the following main areas:

  • Money, particularly the division of assets and liabilities, and payment of any debt outstanding
  • Citizens rights, both of UK citizens in EU countries and vice-versa
  • Border arrangements and customs, particularly along the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland
  • The law, and the mechanisms for resolving disputes, currently vested with the European Court of Justice

The agreement also sets up a transitional period, which lasts until 31 December 2020 and can be extended once by mutual consent. During the transitional period, the UK will remain a member of the European Economic Area, the single market, and the customs union, EU laws will continue to apply to the UK, and the UK will continue to pay into the EU budget. However, the UK will not be represented in the decision-making bodies of the EU. The transition period will give businesses time to adjust to the new situation and time for the British and EU governments to negotiate a new trade deal between the EU and the UK.

On the Irish border question, there is a Northern Ireland Protocol at the end of the agreement which sets a backstop that will come into force, in the case that there is no new agreement between the EU and UK before the end of the transition period. In that case, the UK will shadow the EU’s Common external tariff and Northern Ireland will keep in aspects of the Single Market. Neither party can unilaterally withdraw from this customs union. The goal of this backstop agreement is to avoid a “hard” Irish border, where customs checks are necessary.

The governance will be through a Joint Committee with representatives of both the European Union and the British government. There will be a number of specialised committees reporting to the Joint Committee.

The withdrawal agreement also includes provisions for the UK to leave the Convention Defining the Statute of the European Schools, with the UK bound by the Convention and the accompanying regulations on Accredited European Schools until the end of the last academic year of the transition period, i.e. the end of the spring semester of 2020-2021.


Agreement points

The more important elements of the draft agreement are these:

Common provisions
The Agreement assists the arrangements of withdrawing the UK from the European Union and Euratom (Art. 1), provides a clear definition for the territorial scope of the United Kingdom (Art. 3), and assures the legal liability of the Agreement (Art. 4). Additionally, it states that by the end of the transition period, the UK shall be denied access to “any network, any information system and any database established on the basis of Union law” (Art. 8).

Citizens’ rights: general provisions
The Agreement defines and provides the personal scope of citizens, family members, frontier workers, host states, and nationals. Article 11 deals with continuity of residence and Article 12 discusses non-discrimination (i.e., it would be prohibited to discriminate on grounds of nationality).

Rights and obligations
UK nationals and Union citizens, family members that are UK nationals or Union citizens and family members that are neither of those two shall maintain the right to reside in the host State (Art. 13). The host State may not limit or condition the persons for obtaining, retaining or losing residence rights (Art. 13). Persons with valid documentation would not require entry and exit visas or equal formalities and would be permitted to leave or enter the host state without complications (Art. 14). In case the host State demands “family members who join the Union citizen or the United Kingdom national after the end of the transition period to have an entry visa”, the host State is required to grant necessary visas through an accelerated process in appropriate facilities free of charge (Art. 14). The Agreement further deals with the issuance of permanent residence permits during and after the transition period, as well as its restrictions. Moreover, it clarifies the rights of workers and self-employed individuals and provides recognition and identification of professional qualifications.

Coordination of social security systems
This title discusses special cases, administrative cooperation, legal adaptations and the development of Union laws.

Goods placed on the market
The Agreement defines the goods, services and processes connected to them. It claims that any good or service that was lawfully placed in the market prior to the withdrawal from the Union may be further made available to the consumers in the UK or the Union States (Art. 40 & 41).

Ongoing customs procedures
This title addresses the custom procedures of goods moving from the customs territory of the UK to the customs territory of the Union and vice versa (Art. 47). The processes that start before the end of the transition period “shall be treated as an intra-Union movement regarding importation and exportation licencing requirements in Union law”. The Agreement also addresses the ending of temporary storage or customs procedures (Art. 49).

Ongoing value-added tax and excise duty matters
The VAT applies to goods that are exchanged between the Union and the UK. By way of derogation from previous Articles, the Title permits access to information systems that are necessary for the application or processing of the VAT (Art. 51).

There are ten annexes to the draft. The first is a protocol to maintain an open border between the EU and the UK on the island of Ireland (generally known as the ‘Irish backstop’).
The second covers the arrangements for a common customs territory to operate between the EU and the UK until a technical solution can be found that delivers both an open border and independent customs policies.
The third covers operations of the joint customs territory.
The fourth covers ‘good governance in the area of taxation, environmental protection, labour and social standards, state aid, competition, and state-owned undertakings.
The fifth to eighth cover relevant provisions in EU law.
The ninth and tenth details procedures arising from the main sections of the draft.



UK government resignations
On 15 November 2018, the day after the agreement was presented and received backing from the cabinet of the UK government, several members of the government resigned, including Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted down May’s deal by 230 votes, the largest vote against the United Kingdom government in history. The May government survived a confidence vote the following day.
On 12 March 2019, the Commons voted down May’s deal by 149 votes, the fourth-largest defeat of the government in the history of the Commons. The third vote on May’s deal, widely expected to be held on 19 March 2019, was refused by the Speaker of the House of Commons on 18 March 2019 on the basis of a parliamentary convention dating from 2 April 1604 that prevents UK governments from forcing the Commons to repeatedly vote on an issue that the Commons has already voted upon.
A cut-down vote on the Withdrawal Agreement alone without the attached Political Declaration passed the Speaker’s test for ‘substantial change’ was held on 29 March 2019, but was voted down by 58 votes.

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