On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the European Council of its intention to leave the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This triggered the start of a two year negotiation, also known as the Article 50 process. The objective of the negotiations is to agree the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU in an orderly manner.
The negotiations are taking place on a phased basis. The first phase of negotiations primarily addressed three main baskets of withdrawal issues:
In December 2017, the European Council determined that enough progress had been made in phase one on the withdrawal issues to move to phase two, where the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK after the UK’s departure is being discussed alongside the remaining withdrawal issues.
A draft Withdrawal Agreement has been under discussion since February 2018, which is intended to set out agreement on the withdrawal issues in a legally binding manner. In parallel, discussions on the framework for the future relationship are being carried out with a view to preparing a political declaration on these issues. In March 2018, certain elements of the draft Withdrawal Agreement were agreed in principle between the two negotiating teams. This included conditional agreement on a transitional arrangement, which will see EU law continue to apply to the UK after it leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 until 31 December 2020.
It is hoped that the negotiations will be concluded by October/November 2018 in order to allow time for the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified by the UK, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU (Article 50), before 29 March 2019 when the UK will formally leave the EU.
While progress has been made on parts of the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement, other important aspects still need to be agreed. At its meeting in June 2018, the European Council expressed its concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an important element of the draft Withdrawal Agreement aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. The European Council made it clear in June 2018 that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Negotiations are now in the final stage and the EU and UK agreed in August 2018 to negotiate continuously until the end of the process.