On 23rd June 2016 voters in the United Kingdom decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. The UK officially notified the European Council of its intention to leave on 29th March 2017.
The notification triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and paved the way for negotiations on a Withdrawal Agreement, which came into force on 1st February 2020. This was followed by a transition period that allowed for an orderly UK exit and provided time to negotiate a new EU/UK partnership.
The transition period ended on 31st December 2020 and relationships between the European Union and the United Kingdom are now provisionally based on four treaties, most notably the Withdrawal Agreement and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
The UK has lost the rights and benefits it had as an EU Member State and it is no longer a part of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union or covered by the EU’s international agreements.
While the European Union respects the UK’s decision to leave, Brexit regrettably has far-reaching consequences for citizens, businesses, public administrations and stakeholders in both the EU and the UK.
Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
The Withdrawal Agreement includes a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland that’s designed to prevent a hard border on the island. This Protocol came into force on 1st January 2021.
The protocol was a major priority during Withdrawal Agreement negotiations and it required a creative, workable solution to protect the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.
Brexit has made frictionless trade between the EU and the UK impossible but the Protocol is a complex system that allows Northern Ireland to remain in the UK customs territory and, at the same time, benefit from access to the Single Market.
It contains provisions that protect unique circumstances on the island of Ireland such as continuation of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.
It also allows for crucial North-South cooperation in areas such as agriculture, transport, education, tourism and ensures the Single Electricity Market is preserved.
The PEACE funding programmes that support peace and reconciliation and promote economic and social progress in Northern Ireland and the Border Regions of Ireland are also continuing.
The Protocol includes a consent mechanism that gives the elected representatives of Northern Ireland's Legislative Assembly the right to decide whether to continue applying the system or not.
Apart from the Protocol, Ireland will receive assistance to help mitigate the financial consequences of Brexit through the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. This funding source is worth €5.37 billion and it will provide support to Member States, regions and sectors worst affected by Brexit.
The European Commission has proposed that €4.24 billion of the funding be allocated from 2021, with the remainder distributed in 2024 after the full impact of Brexit has been assessed. As the Member State most impacted by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Ireland can expect to be allocated a substantial amount of the funding.
- The protocol guarantees that there won’t be a hard border on the island of Ireland, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.
- However, checks and controls will take place on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. For example, food products and live animals have to be checked to see if they meet sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements.
- Any necessary checks will take place at Northern Ireland's entry point, away from the island’s land border. Risk controls, if required, may be carried out in Dublin and other EU entry points.
- All checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK will be carried out by UK authorities with appropriate supervisory and enforcement mechanisms for the EU.
- EU customs duties apply to goods entering Northern Ireland unless it can be demonstrated that there is no risk of them entering the EU's Single Market.
- EU customs formalities and procedures apply to goods brought into Northern Ireland from outside the EU or exported from Northern Ireland.
- EU VAT and excise rules apply to goods entering (or leaving) Northern Ireland from (or to) the rest of the UK.
- A Specialised Committee on the implementation and application of the Protocol has been established. It’s one of six Specialised Committees that make recommendations to a Joint Committee composed of representatives from the EU and the United Kingdom that is responsible for overseeing the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The Joint Committee sets out a framework of conditions under which goods are considered not to be at risk of entering the EU's Single Market.
- While much has been done to mitigate the impact of Brexit for Irish businesses and citizens through the Protocol, some consequences can’t be avoided.
- Online consumers may have to pay VAT, Customs Duty or both when purchasing from the UK, depending on the value and origin of the goods.
- EU consumer protection legislation may no longer apply when buying from the UK. Instead, consumer rights are set down in UK law.
- Businesses importing or exporting goods to the UK (apart from Northern Ireland) now need to register for Customs. VAT rules of trade with a third country now apply to trade with the UK.
- Northern Ireland is treated as a Member State with regard to VAT on goods, but not on services.
- People born in Northern Ireland who retain their right to be Irish citizens will also retain their EU citizenship so they still have the right to live, work and study in an EU country without a visa and with no time limit.
- Mobile phone roaming charges for Irish customers travelling to the UK are no longer guaranteed by EU regulations.
- The Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK continues to be recognised along with the rights it grants to Irish and British citizens. This includes the right for Irish and UK citizens to live, travel, work and study within the Common Travel Area. However, these rights do not extend to EU citizens resident in Ireland.
- There are no passport controls in operation for Irish and UK citizens travelling in either direction. However, you may be asked by an immigration officer to prove you are a citizen of Ireland or the UK, so all citizens should carry a passport.
- Goods moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland will not have any Customs, tariffs, or other restrictions placed on them.
- Goods moving from Northern Ireland to another part of the UK and vice versa now require additional paperwork and checks.
EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement
There are now four treaties that govern relations between the EU and the UK. Most people will already have heard of the Withdrawal Agreement but the EU-UK Security of Information Agreement and the EU-UK Agreement on cooperation in the safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy are also both now in force.
The former sets out rules around the exchange of classified information that can help strengthen security and prevent acts of terrorism, while the latter ensures safety and collaboration when it comes to nuclear energy.
The treaty most citizens and businesses will be impacted by is the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It includes a new Free Trade Agreement, with ambitious cooperation on economic, social, environmental and fisheries issues.
It doesn’t match the level of economic integration that existed while the UK was an EU Member State but it does provide for zero tariffs and zero quotas on all goods that comply with the appropriate rules of origin.
It includes commitments from both sides to maintain high levels of protection in areas such as climate change, social and labour rights, tax transparency and the use of State aid to provide unfair market advantage.
There is also a new framework for the joint management of fish stocks in EU and UK waters and the agreement allows for continued and sustainable air, road, rail and maritime connectivity.
The agreement includes a new arrangements for law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal and civil law matters. This security partnership recognises the need for strong cooperation between national police and judicial authorities, in particular for fighting and prosecuting cross-border crime and terrorism.
The treaty has a dedicated chapter on governance that provides clarity on how the Trade and Cooperation Agreement will be operated and controlled. A Joint Partnership Council has been established to make sure the Agreement is properly applied and interpreted, and in which all arising issues will be discussed.
There couldn’t have been a Withdrawal Agreement without the Protocol for Ireland and Northern Ireland, but another top EU priority in the negotiations was protecting citizens who have built their lives on the basis of rights flowing from UK membership of the EU.
While Northern Ireland will no longer be part of the EU, its people who choose to be Irish citizens will still be EU citizens. That means they can continue to move and live freely within the EU and the UK has committed to upholding their rights.
The Withdrawal Agreement provides legal certainty for EU citizens residing in the UK, as well as UK nationals who were residing in one of the 27 EU Member States at the end of the transitional period on 31st January 2020.
It also protects their family members (such as current spouses and registered partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren and a person in an existing durable relationship) who are granted rights under EU law to join their family member in the future.
The conditions of residence for these citizens are the same as those under current EU law on free movement. In general, this means citizens must be workers or self-employed, have sufficient resources and sickness insurance or have already acquired the right of permanent residence.
The implementation and application of citizens' rights in the EU will be monitored by the European Commission, and in the UK by an independent national authority.
The rights of Irish citizens to live, work and access public services in the UK are protected under the Common Travel Area arrangement.
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