Negotiating Brexit

Whitehouse Communications launched Project Brexit in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum to provide information and analysis on the Brexit negotiation process. The content below is from our Brexit archives.

Legal Implications

The UK leaving the EU means that EU law will cease to apply in this country – although any EU law transposed into UK law would remain valid until the Government decides to amend or repeal it. In view of the Government’s plan, it will also mean the UK will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. However, it is also important to note that if there were to be a future relationship between the UK and the EU, complete isolation from EU regulations would be impossible.

On 13 July 2017, the UK Government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which repeals the 1972 European Communities Act and incorporates all existing EU legislation into UK law. This is to ensure that there is legal certainty for businesses and consumers once the UK leaves. The UK Parliament can then “amend, repeal and improve” the laws as necessary. This constitutes the ideal opportunity for businesses to feed into the policymaking process and ensure optimal conditions in the UK moving forward.

The Bill was subject to much criticism, which led to the House of Lords adopting multiple changes – though these were mostly overturned by the House of Commons. The Government was defeated once over giving Parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal. The Bill received royal assent on 26 June 2018.

It was this “meaningful vote” that led to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May with the EU to be rejected in the House of Commons three times. In the event that the Government cannot secure sufficient support for the deal, the UK would by default leave the EU without a deal. This means EU law would cease to apply in the UK immediately, resulting in potential trading barriers being set up. With the extension of Article 50, current legal conditions will continue to apply until at least 31 October 2019.

In case all parties accept the Withdrawal Agreement, a transition period will kick in as soon as the UK leaves on 31 October 2019. This would ensure continued application of EU law in and to the UK during that period, but without UK participation in EU institutions and governance structures and therefore the decision-making processes. This would also provide more time for administrations, businesses and citizens to adapt. The transition period ran until 31 December 2020.

Latest on the negotiations

A timeline of key events in the negotiations so far:

24th December: A deal at last!

In the afternoon of Christmas Eve, it was an announced that a deal had been achieved by UK PM Boris Johnson and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

20th December: MEPs deadline missed by negotiators

European Parliament had set this date for a deal to be achieved by and said it was the latest date for MEPs to be able to sign off a deal before the end of the year. This deadline was missed; therefore, MEPS will have to sign off the deal early 2021.

16th December: Fisheries contingency plan announced

The Council of the EU approved a Brexit contingency plan on fisheries which would ensure a legal framework for EU and UK fisherman after the end of the transition period. The European Parliament voted on the regulation which would contribute to the economic stability and livelihood of fishing communities and would continue sustainable fishing.

10th December: UK commit to EU food safety rules

It was announced that the UK had committed to stay fully aligned to EU food safety and animal health rules for the production of agri-food products which will be shipped to Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. The UK government also announced a trusted trader scheme to remove tariffs between Britain and Northern Ireland. It was guaranteed that there would be no disruption to trade to supermarkets for the first three months of 2021.

In the EU on the 10th, the European Commission published a contingency plan for a “no-deal” scenario to help businesses plan for the end of the transition period if there was to be a no-deal achieved between the EU and UK negotiators.

16th November: Another deadline set…(and missed)

Trade talks were supposed to be finalised by 19th November. Boris Johnson re-iterated that he was confident the UK would prosper without a deal. UK Chief negotiator, Lord David Frost said that he was working hard to achieve a deal but admitted there was a lot to do. EU counterpart, Michel Barnier said he wanted “future cooperation to be open but fair” with the UK.

8th November: USA President-elect announced

PM Boris Johnson congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his win of the US election. He said the USA was the UK’s “closest and most important ally” and he was prepared to work with the Biden administration on a potential trade deal for the future, but said the US were tough negotiators.

5th November: Northern Irish plea for food security

A joint party letter from Northern Irish leaders Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill was sent to the European Commission requesting urgent action to be taken to resolve any issues that may threaten food security after the end of the transition period.  They asked the Commission to consider the unique Northern Ireland case and urged them to provide the country with flexibility with regards to the new Irish Sea border. The Commission confirmed receipt of the email and said they were taking this issue very seriously and would provide a timely response to the ministers.

26 October 2020: Ongoing talks..

Michel Barnier travelled to London to continue the talks on future relations once again.

16 October 2020: Is there still a will?

Boris Johnson said in a press statement that it was time to ‘get ready’ for no-deal with the EU. He said the UK should get ready for an Australian-style deal’ and told the British public that the EU were not willing to offer the UK the same terms as they have with Canada.

15-16 October 2020: The missed deadline

In September, Boris Johnson set himself this deadline to reach a deal with the EU. The EU Council meeting took place in Brussels over October 15-16 but by the end of the Summit, a deal has not yet been reached. Michel Barnier said both parties had progressed on the question of the ‘level playing field’, the question of governance and on fisheries but said there was still a lot of work to focus on.

8 October 2020: UK softening its stance

Boris Johnson said he was prepared to make a major compromise to secure security tie with the EU by pledging in a deal on the future relationship to maintain the Human Rights Act. A key development which potentially will offer to open up access to EU databases and other forms of cooperation over tackling crime to British law enforcement agencies.

3 October 2020: One month of further Brexit talks

Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson approved a further month of Brexit negotiations to try to obtain a deal on trade and security.

2 October 2020: Positive developments in trade talks

After the ninth round of Brexit negotiations, Michel Barnier released a statement that said there had been some positive new developments on some topics such as aviation safety, social security coordination, and the respect of fundamental rights and individual freedoms – this he said were ‘ a pre-condition for our future police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.’

11 September 2020: UK-Japan trade deal

The UK made its first independent trade deal with Japan. Trade Minister, Liz Truss, revealed what this would mean for future trade between the two countries, however it faced criticism due to what the deal would mean in real terms. The deal will give UK companies a competitive advantage in areas such as the tech sector, UK manufacturers and the food and drink sector. However, analysis has shown that it would only increase GDP by 0.07% over the next 15 years, and there were only a few agreements that were slightly superior to the deal Japan already has with the EU.

9 – 14 September 2020: Internal Market Bill and the threat to the WA

The UK published the Internal Market Bill, which was subsequently passed by Parliament on September 14th, despite 30 Conservative MPs abstaining from the vote. A vote on an amendment to the Bill has been tabled for September 21st. The Bill was controversial due to its potential to undermine the Withdrawal Agreement, which would ultimately have adverse effects for the future of Northern Ireland. Ministers would be given the power to disapply State Aid and allow them the power to implement their own rules on export declarations. Many politicians were worried that this could result in a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland due to the custom checks and undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and 22 years of peace between the two countries.  Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, served an ultimatum to the UK following the publication of the Internal Market Bill. She told the government that there would be ‘no chance’ of a UK-US trade deal if the Bill undermined the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson’s five predecessors, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May expressed their disapproval for the Bill.

15 June 2020: High-level Conference

A High-Level EU-UK Conference took place and the UK made the decision not to request an extension for the transition period, therefore it will end on 31st December. Both Parties agreed to intensify talks to create the most conducive conditions for a deal before the end of 2020 and underlined their intention for a relationship that would work for EU and UK citizens. They also confirmed their full commitment to the timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.

5 May 2020: UK-US trade talks began

The UK officially began trade talks with the US on 5th May 2020. The hope of the British government is that the parallel negotiations will both offer alternative economic partnerships for the UK and put pressure on the EU to be more conciliant in its positions.

25 – 27 February 2020: Negotiating documents released

The EU’s “Directives for the negotiation of a new partnership with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” were adopted by the Council of the European Union. Subsequently, the UK released its Approach to Negotiations.

31 January 2020: Brexit Day

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union. Since then, the UK has entered an eleven month-long transition period during which the EU and the UK will negotiate for a new agreement on their post-Brexit relationship. Under the transition period, the UK has no political representation in European institutions, but continues to be subject to European laws and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

23 – 24 January 2020: Royal Assent of the WA

The Withdrawal Agreement receives Royal Assent in Britain, and Michel Barnier and Ursula von der Leyen sign the agreement.

12 December 2019: Result of the UK General Election

Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party win a majority of 47 seats which meant it was more likely for the Government to pass through laws in line with Johnson’s views. Labour suffered a massive defeat and many of their significant strong-hold seat turned ‘blue’ for the first time in history. Part of Johnson’s campaign had been to target strong Labour areas, in particular ‘The Red Wall’ in the North-East of England, incidentally these were strong Brexit areas. The Conservatives election campaign had been centred around asking Brexiteers to ‘lend him their vote’ to ‘Get Brexit Done’, which resulted in new Conservative voters.

29 October 2019: UK General Election are called

PM Boris Johnson calls a UK General Election which would be held on the 12th December. It would be the first winter election in the UK since 1923. Both parties deemed the election to be important for the reason it would determine how Brexit was negotiated to maintain future EU-UK relations.

28 October 2019: New Brexit extension

The EU agreed to an extension of Brexit until 31st January 2020, from October 31st 2019. However, the UK would be able to leave earlier if a deal were to be ratified. Donald Tusk warned that the UK might not get a further delay to Brexit if it could not be sorted by the end of January.

17 October 2019: New Withdrawal Agreement

PM Johnson agreed on a new Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. It set out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. The new Agreement included the changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol which saw the backstop removed.

2 October 2019: Northern Irish backstop

The Government published documents which set out the PM’s plan for an alternative to the Northern Irish backstop. Northern Ireland would stay in the single market for goods but leave the customs union which would result in new customs checks.

9 September 2019: Parliament blocks no deal in law

The House of Lords and the House of Commons have adopted a law that forces the UK government to ask the EU for an extension of the Article 50 negotiations at the European Council Summit on 19 October if Parliament does not approve a Brexit deal or a no deal Brexit before then. The bill stipulates that the extension would have to run until 31 January 2020.

Having promised to deliver the UK’s exit by 31 October 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seeking ways around the law. He put the option to hold a general election before the House of Commons twice, but failed to secure the two-thirds majority necessary to organise it. While opposition parties are in favour of holding a general election, MPs wanted to ensure it could not be held before 31 October so the next Prime Minister (potentially Boris Johnson) could ignore the new law and pull the UK without a deal anyway.

Meanwhile, the government decided to prorogue Parliament, meaning it is suspended until 14 October. It is likely MPs will support the motion for a general election when Parliament resumes. The vote will then likely take place in November/early December.

24 July 2019: Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has become the new Prime Minister after he beat Jeremy Hunt in the race to become leader of the Conservative Party. The former Foreign Secretary quit Theresa May’s government in July 2018 over disapproval of her approach to Brexit.

Throughout the leadership campaign, Mr Johnson emphasised he wanted to ensure the UK leaves the EU on 31 October 2019, with or without a deal. His positive attitude towards leaving without a deal was also reflected in the Cabinet he put together. This includes key Leave figures, such as Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, Michael Gove and Liz Truss.

7 June 2019: Theresa May resigns as UK Prime Minister

Theresa May has resigned as the UK’s Prime Minister. Her decision followed increasing criticism from her own party over her leadership and the way she had handled the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Following an internal leadership contest, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson are now in the running to succeed Mrs May. Both candidates have committed to pulling the UK out of the EU by 31 October 2019, though Mr Hunt has shown more reluctance to doing so without a deal.

The final result of the leadership contest on who will become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister will be revealed on 23 July 2019.

10 April 2019: European Council agrees to extend Article 50 to 31 October

At a European Council summit, the 27 EU leaders agreed to extend Article 50 until 31 October 2019. This followed Theresa May’s request for a shorter extension until 30 June with the option to leave earlier if the Brexit deal got adopted. According to the European Council conclusions, the longer extension means the UK must now hold the European Parliament elections in May or leave on 1 June without a deal. The “flextension” can still be terminated if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before 31 October.

The EU27 also reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement is no longer open for negotiation, but there is flexibility on the Political Declaration on the future relationship. While a no-deal Brexit has been averted for now, the question is how the UK will use these six months to get a deal through that is acceptable for all sides. European Council President Donald Tusk emphasised that the UK should “not waste this time”.

29 March 2019: House of Commons rejects Withdrawal Agreement for third time

On what should have been the day that the UK left the EU, MPs rejected Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement for the third time by 344 to 286 votes. This was despite her promise to Brexiteer Conservatives that she would stand down as PM before the next phase of the Brexit negotiations if the deal was passed. While this had convinced several MPs to switch sides (the rejection margin was now the smallest at 58 votes), 34 Conservative MPs still voted against, as did the government’s confidence and supply partners, the DUP. The government’s hopes for Labour rebels’ support also did not materialise with only five voting in favour of the deal.

To get a better idea of what Brexit arrangement does have Parliament’s support, the government organised another set of indicative votes. All the options, including a customs union and second referendum, were once again rejected. This led Theresa May to turn to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to start discussions on a cross-party solution – much to the dismay of many Conservative MPs. With Labour calling for a softer Brexit and another referendum, the question is whether Theresa May will change her red lines to get any deal across the line, which would likely come at the expense of to what is left of the unity of her party.

21 March 2019: European Council agrees to extend Article 50

EU leaders have agreed to extend Article 50 until 22 May 2019 on the condition that the UK approves the Withdrawal Agreement before 12 April 2019. This effectively makes 12 April the new Brexit day, chosen by EU leaders because the UK must decide by this date whether or not to take part in the European elections on 23-26 May. Theresa May had requested an extension until 30 June, but EU leaders felt this would interfere with the European and some national elections.

If the House of Commons approves the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will have until 22 May to get the legislation in place for an orderly withdrawal. The EU has thereby been able to dictate the Brexit process, now leaving four options for the UK to move forward: To approve the deal and leave on 22 May, to leave without a deal on 12 April, to ask for a long extension and participate in the elections or to revoke Article 50 all together. So far, Theresa May has only ruled out the last option and will put all her efforts into getting the Withdrawal Agreement approved to avoid working with the other two unpopular options.

12 March 2019: House of Commons rejects Withdrawal Agreement for second time

MPs voted down the Withdrawal Agreement for a second time by 149. Theresa May put the deal back to a vote following concessions made by Brussels on the Irish backstop. This included a ‘joint legally binding instrument’, a ‘joint statement’ and a ‘unilateral statement’, highlighting the EU would act in good faith and not seek to keep the UK in the backstop. Brexiteers, the DUP and the opposition Labour party soon emphasised that these changes were not significant enough to support the deal.

Parliament also held a number of other votes:

  • It voted down a motion supporting a second referendum
  • It voted in favour of ruling out a no-deal Brexit
  • It approved the extension of Article 50 to postpone Brexit

The Government is now in a precarious position, as it is becoming increasingly uncertain of what Brexit approach would get Parliament’s approval and the EU has emphasised that it will only approve an extension to Article 50 if the UK provides a clear action plan. Furthermore, Theresa May’s authority over her party and Government is also increasingly being questioned, as her own Cabinet members defied her whip on these crucial votes without having to resign.

15 January 2019: House of Commons rejects Withdrawal Agreement

In an historic defeat for the Government, the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future relationship by 230 votes. Reasons for Members of Parliament to vote against the deal varied, but for most advocates of a “hard Brexit”, the Irish backstop posed the biggest problem. The Agreement does not include an end date for the backstop and the UK cannot leave it independently. MPs fear the UK may become “trapped” in the single customs territory, with the Government’s ‘confidence and supply’ partners (DUP) arguing this could even break up the UK.

Meanwhile, supporters of a softer Brexit feel that the Political Declaration does not provide enough certainty over the future relationship. Many wish the UK to stay closer to the EU than is currently proposed by the Government.

Following this vote, the House of Commons adopted an amendment on 29 January, asking the government to change the backstop and seek “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” in Ireland. The EU, however, reiterated that the Withdrawal Agreement is no longer open for negotiation.

25 November 2018: EU leaders endorse Withdrawal Agreement

The European Council have approved the Withdrawal Agreement and adopted the Declaration on the Framework for the Future Relationship.

14 November 2018: Withdrawal Agreement is finalised

Negotiators have reached a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement. It includes:

  • A transition period until 31 December 2020, which can be prolonged by one or two years once.
  • A financial settlement the UK will have to pay the EU. This is estimated to be around £39bn.
  • A guarantee that UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.
  • A backstop ensuring that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains open. This backstop would kick in if no trade arrangements are agreed by the end of the transition period and would trigger “a single customs territory between the EU and the UK”.

The Withdrawal Agreement is also accompanied by a Declaration on the Framework for the Future Relationship. This 26-page document outlines the general aspirations of the future trading relationship and is not legally binding.

19 June 2018: Negotiators issue joint statement on Withdrawal Agreement

The joint statement provides an update on the latest areas of agreement in the draft legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement. New agreements had been reached on matters such as goods, Euratom related issues and judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters.

19 March 2018: Negotiators publish draft Withdrawal Agreement

The Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union includes agreed legal text for the implementation period, citizens’ rights, and the financial settlement, as well as a number of other articles. The green text is agreed at negotiators’ level, while the text in yellow still requires changes and/or clarifications. The aim is to conclude the agreement in October 2018, allowing sufficient time to get approval from all necessary parties before the exit.

15 December 2017: European Council agrees to proceed to trade talks

Following the adoption by negotiators of a Joint Report on the progress on the first phase of the talks, EU leaders decided that sufficient progress had been made to proceed to discussions on the future relationship.

The report emphasises that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, meaning the withdrawal terms can still become void if the second phase of the talks are not successful. It also highlights that the European Court of Justice will play a role in the protection of citizens’ rights and that, in the absence of another arrangement, the UK would align itself with the Single Market and Customs Union to ensure the Irish border remains open. The method for calculating the financial bill has also been agreed.

19 June 2017: Start of negotiations

Nearly a year after the referendum, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator, and David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union kicked off the Brexit negotiations. Their officials met in working groups to discuss citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and “other separation issues”, including the common travel area in Ireland. Mr Davis said the talks got off to a “promising start”.

8 June 2017: UK holds general election

In a bid to secure a strong mandate before the Brexit negotiations started, Theresa May called for a general election.Her Conservatives remained the biggest party but lost their majority and the election result produced a hung Parliament. The Conservatives continued to rule with a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The outcome of the elections meant it would become a lot more challenging for Theresa May to find a majority for her “hard Brexit” plans.

29 March 2017: UK triggers Article 50

The UK ambassador to the EU hands over the UK’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, notifying its intention to leave the EU. Article 50 was hereby triggered and started the two-year negotiation process.

Key Brexit negotiators

Key negotiators who were involved in Brexit negotiations included;

  • Alex Ellis: Director General at the Department for Exiting the EU
Antony Phillipson: Director of Trade and Partnerships, Department for Exiting the EU
  • Catherine Webb: Department for Exiting the EU Senior Management Team Director of Market Access and Budget
  • Cecilia Malmström: European Commissioner for Trade
  • Didier Seeuws: Chief Negotiator, EU Council Special Taskforce
  • Guy Verhofstadt MEP: European Parliament Chief Brexit Negotiator
  • Michel Barnier: European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator
  • Oliver Robbins CB: EU Adviser in the Cabinet Office & EU Sherpa
  • Philip Rycroft: Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the EU
  • Robin Walker MP: Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Exiting the European Union
  • Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Rt Hon David Davis MP: Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
  • Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP: Secretary of State for International Trade
  • Sabine Weyand: European Commission Deputy Chief Brexit Negotiator
  • Sarah Healey: Director General at Department for Exiting the EU
  • Sir Tim Barrow: UK Permanent Representative to the EU
  • Steve Baker MP: Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the EU

Get Engaged

Post-Brexit Opportunities

The UK has officially left the EU with a deal on 31st December 2020. It will be more difficult for UK-based businesses to shape and influence EU policy development but it won’t be impossible. Businesses should seek and exploit links in other EU Member States to advance interests through them. They should also look to form alliance/trade associations that cover both the UK and the EU: it will be as much in the interest of all to achieve a harmonised regulatory framework in both polities.

In many respects, engagement by UK companies in the EU will increasingly mirror engagement from US-based businesses. Many American firms have extensive contacts with EU officials and elected representatives and regularly seek to influence the development of policy. They must rely, however, on arguments based on science or trade and employment within Member States rather than the impact of a law on their home market – as UK firms could and can currently do for the foreseeable future.

Much depends on the shape that the relationship between the EU and the UK will take in the coming years. In any event, Whitehouse Communications can help. Our European team has more than a decade’s worth of experience conducting successful campaigns on behalf of multinational corporations, small companies and pan-European trade associations. Our success is based on our multilingual team’s expertise in European politics and law, as well as valuable experience of working with and within the institutions of the European Union.

We can help you navigate the next few years of uncertainty from both a UK and a European perspective. In particular we can help you:

  • Follow and make sense of the debate
  • Understand what various proposals on the future relationship between the UK and the EU will mean for your business
  • And crucially, influence the shape of a future deal to maximise opportunities for your business and minimise the threats.

Even after Brexit, the UK will carry over considerable amounts of EU legislation, and British businesses will need to maintain a strong voice in the European political and policy arena. Whitehouse Communications has launched a tailor-made EU Public Affairs Training package, offering the perfect opportunity for UK businesses and professionals to learn how to effectively identify, shape and represent their interests at the EU level.

Get in touch to find out more.