Euronews 20 11 18
As of 11pm GMT on March 29, 2019, the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union — an economic and political partnership of 28 countries — bringing to an end 46 years of British membership.
Brexit is set to be the most important constitutional shake-up the UK has known since it joined the then six-nation European Economic Community in 1973, and represents the first time the European institution has lost a member.
The exit date marks the end of the two-year negotiating period formally set in motion when the UK triggered Article 50 of the EU Treaty in March 2017. British people voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48% in a June 2016 referendum.
What have the UK and the EU agreed?
The British government and EU negotiators have struck a provisional agreement on the terms of the separation — the Withdrawal Agreement — and a political declaration on the nature of future EU-UK ties.
The 585-page Withdrawal Agreement is legally binding and settles the key “divorce” issues: the UK’s financial obligations to the EU, citizens’ rights, and arrangements for the Irish border — which will become the only land frontier between the UK and the EU. Both sides agree this must remain open, but the historically sensitive and complex issue has bedevilled the talks.
An exit deal is also needed for a planned transition period to come into effect after the UK’s departure. This is due to run until the end of December 2020, although it could be extended.
During this period many existing arrangements would remain in place, allowing for more time to sort out future EU-UK relations and avoid an abrupt “cliff-edge” exit.
- Brexit Withdrawal Agreement: the details
- What it means for EU citizens living in the UK
- What it means for UK citizens living in the EU
The withdrawal Agreement is accompanied by a much shorter Draft Political Declaration on future relations. This would not be legally binding — but should form the basis for a trade agreement to be negotiated after Brexit.
Will the deal be signed, sealed, delivered?
Despite the provisional agreement between London and Brussels, many obstacles lie ahead on the path to an orderly UK exit from the EU next March.
The accord still needs political backing from:
- the governments of the other 27 EU countries
- the UK parliament
- approval from the European Parliament
EU governments have been considering the text ahead of a planned summit on Sunday in Brussels, where leaders are due to endorse the overall deal.
During the talks, the 27 countries were united in their backing for the stance taken by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator.
However, Spain has warned it will reject the draft withdrawal deal unless there is clarification over Gibraltar, a British territory to which it maintains a claim. Meanwhile, France and some other countries have been calling for guaranteed fishing rights in UK waters.
The British government needs the agreement approved at EU level in good time to allow enough time to get it through parliament at home and pass the necessary Brexit legislation.
The ongoing UK row over Europe
British Prime Minister Theresa May insists the deal is in the national interest and there is no viable alternative. However, it is a compromise and several of the original red lines laid down by Theresa May have been blurred or ditched.
At the heart of the debate in the United Kingdom is the balance to be struck between two objectives: a desire for independence, sovereignty and autonomy against the need to retain access to European markets, which, the EU has always insisted, means adhering to EU rules.
Echoing the ruling Conservative Party’s decades-long internal conflict over Europe, the deal has brought opposition from both pro- and anti–Brexit wings of the Tory party.