Since announcing its intention to leave, the UK has entered into talks with the EU to determine the terms of their new relationship.
The European Parliament will play a key role in determining the outcome of this negotiation.
A majority of voters in the UK voted in favour of taking their country out of the EU on 23 June 2016. The government triggered the official process on 29 March 2017 by invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets out the negotiations for a withdrawal agreement to define the country’s future relationship with the EU.
The EU and the UK have two years to negotiate a withdrawal agreement setting out the arrangements for how the country will leave the Union, while “taking account of the framework of the future relationship with the Union”.
The arrangements setting out the framework for future relations will be part of a separate agreement, which could take considerably longer to negotiate.
What the withdrawal agreement will cover
The withdrawal agreement will cover issues such as:
- The rights of EU citizens in the UK
- The rights of UK citizens living in other parts of the EU
- The UK’s financial commitments undertaken as member state
- Border issues (especially the one between the UK and the Republic of Ireland)
- The seat of EU agencies currently based in the UK
- International commitments undertaken by UK as member state (for example the Paris agreement)
What the agreement on the future framework could cover
The agreement on the future framework would describe the conditions for cooperation on a variety of issues, ranging from defence, the fight against terrorism, the environment, research, education and so on.
One of the key sections would be to agree the basis for future trade. It could also describe possible tariffs, product standards, and how to resolve disputes.
How the negotiations will work
EU heads of state and government in the European Council have issued guidelines to serve as the basis for negotiations. Former commissioner Michel Barnier leads negotiations on behalf of the EU, although the Council could always clarify or update the guidelines.
Priorities for the first round of negotiations
The EU has stated it wants to see significant progress on three specific issues before it starts discussions on the future relationship: namely citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement.
The second round of negotiations
EU countries agreed on 15 December 2017 that sufficient progress had been made to move to the second round of talks. This means that in addition to the withdrawal agreement, discussions can also start on a deal regarding future relations and a transition period.
What happens if there is no agreement
If there is no deal and there is no agreement on extending the deadline, then the UK automatically leaves the EU after the two-year period at the end of March 2019. In addition if no agreement is reached on trade relations, the country would have to trade with the EU under WTO (World trade Organisation) rules.
European Parliament’s role
MEPs play a key role in deciding the outcome of these talks as any agreement would have to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council.
Guy Verhofstadt has been appointed by the MEPs as Parliament’s coordinator. For his work he will be able to draw on the expertise of the parliamentary committees and is assisted by the rest of Parliament’s Brexit steering group.
MEPs will be able to influence negotiations by adopting resolutions setting out the Parliament’s position.
MEPs adopted the Parliament’s position on 5 April 2017, which provides its guidelines to the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK. Priorities include upholding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and of UK citizens living in the EU, safeguarding the peace process in Northern Ireland and the UK living up to its financial commitments.
EU and UK negotiators agreed on a joint Brexit progress report on 8 December 2017. On 13 December MEPs adopted a resolution welcoming the report, but highlighted five issues that still needed to be resolved:
- extending coverage of citizens’ rights to future partners
- a light-touch, declaratory administrative procedure must be available for EU and UK citizens applying for permanent residence status
- European Court of Justice decisions on citizens’ rights must be binding and the role of the ombudsman created to act on citizens’ complaints must be defined,
- the right of free movement for UK citizens currently residing in the EU27 member states must be guaranteed
- the UK’s commitments on Northern Ireland must be implemented.
MEPs also discussed the issues involved during a debate prior to the plenary vote.