By Melanie Kendall-Reid, Director of Consultancy Services
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have overwhelmingly backed the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. MEPs ratified the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement by 621 votes to 49 following an emotional debate in Brussels. After the vote, MEPs marked the UK’s exit by singing Auld Lang Syne. Several MEPs expressed hope that the UK will re-join one day and a number of leaders paid emotional tributes to ‘a country that has twice given its blood to liberate Europe’. As he signed the letter confirming the EU’s consent, the Parliament’s president, David Sassoli, said the two sides must heed the words of the late Labour MP Jo Cox when approaching their future relationship and recognise that there is more that unites us than divides us. Sassoli declared:
“You are leaving the EU but you will always be part of Europe. It is very hard to say goodbye. That is why, like my colleagues, I will say arrivederci.”
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said ratification of the withdrawal deal was only a first step towards a new partnership between the EU and the UK. She spoke passionately about climate change stating that the two should join forces in the fight.
It is now official that the UK will leave the European Union at 11pm on 31st January 2020 after which there will be a transition period until the end of 2020 to allow the UK and EU to negotiate additional arrangements. The current rules on trade, travel, and business between the UK and EU will continue to apply during the transition period. The UK will also continue to pay funds to the EU. In fact, many things will stay the same but there will be some immediate changes:
- At the moment of Brexit, the UK will leave all of the EU’s political institutions and agencies. The 73 UK MEPs will lose their seats. Despite this, the UK will continue to follow EU rules during the transition period and the European Court of Justice will have the final say over legal disputes.
- The UK Prime Minister will need an official invitation to attend any EU Council Summits and the UK will play no part in deciding important matters such as fishing limits. A new body will be set up—the UK-EU Joint Committee—whose main job will be to oversee the implementation and application of the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The UK will commence trade discussions with the rest of the world. Formal trade negotiations were not allowed whilst the UK remained member state. There will also be negotiations for a UK/EU Trade Deal to prevent any damage to the current relationships at the end of the transition period. No trade agreements can come into force until the end of 2020.
- British passports will revert to the original blue colour. British Passports were blue prior to 1988 when the burgundy design was introduced. Existing burgundy passports will still be valid.
- The Department for Exiting the European Union, the team that handled the UK-EU negotiations and no-deal preparations, will close. The forward going negotiation team will be based in Downing Street.
- Extraditions from Germany will cease as its constitution does not allow its citizens to be extradited unless it is to another EU country. There will also be complications with extraditions from other nations, for example Slovenia where the rules are less clear. The European Arrest Warrant will continue to apply during the transition period, but will only apply to non-German citizens.
- Three million commemorative fifty pence coins bearing the date “31 January” and the inscription ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’ will enter circulation.
There has been a great deal of concern expressed in relation to the treatment of UK national on the continent both during and after the transition period. Despite a number of immediate changes, UK nationals will generally still be treated the same as EU nationals during the transition. When it comes to passport control, UK nationals will still be allowed to queue in the areas reserved for EU arrivals only and all flights, boats and trains will operate as usual. Driving licences will still be accepted and pet passports will still enable pet to travel with heir family into Europe. European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) will also be accepted for medical treatment.
The transition period also allows for the freedom of movement, so UK nationals will still be able to live and work in the EU as they currently do. The same applies for EU nationals wanting to live and work in the UK. As the UK will continue to pay into the EU budget during the transition, existing schemes, paid for by EU grants, will continue to be funded. There will not be any extra charges or checks for UK-EU trade.
In essence those who believed Boris would deliver a clean break from the EU by 31st January are likely to be disappointed. The reality is that the day will go down in history, but is likely to feel like an anti-climax as the process for Brexit has really only just begun.