The authoritative source for independent research on UK-EU relations

28 Jan 2020

Relationship with the EU

Brexit Day

When the UK leaves the EU on Brexit Day (11pm UK time on 31 January 2020), the most immediate and visible changes will take place in Brussels, as the UK will no longer have a formal presence in the EU institutions.

However, most people are unlikely to notice much change come Brexit Day. That’s because EU rules continue to apply and the UK stays a member of the single market and customs union. After all, the point of the transition period is to ensure continuity while the UK and the EU agree a future relationship.

Here are some of the most significant things that will be different on 1 February.

1. The UK will no longer be an EU member state

Most obviously, the UK will cease to be an EU member state. The EU will officially become of a union of 27 rather than 28.

The big difference, politically, is that ‘remaining’ is no longer an option—if the UK wants to be an EU member again it would have to reapply and negotiate to rejoin on new terms.

2. The UK will no longer have any MEPs

UK MEPs, elected in May 2019, will no longer sit in the European Parliament. Around a third of the UK’s 73 seats will be redistributed to other countries. The overall size of the Parliament will be reduced.

3. The UK will no longer have a commissioner

Julian King will go down in history as the last UK commissioner.

In practice, this change happened in December, when Boris Johnson refused to nominate a new candidate to the Commission that started on 1 December, despite requests from the Commission to do so.

4. Boris Johnson will stop attending European Council summits

These summits—the meetings of the heads of state and government of the EU—have become a fixture of the EU calendar and tend to be the most high-profile of all EU activities.

Boris Johnson will no longer have an invitation to attend, except on rare occasions where a EU-UK meeting is tacked on to a summit.

In fact, the European Council in October was Johnson’s first and last European Council meeting as prime minister.

5. British ministers and officials will not attend other Council meetings

It’s not just the prime minister that has been going to meetings in Brussels. For the last 47 years, British ministers (or their officials) have regularly attended Council meetings.

Last week, Sajid Javid went to the UK’s last Economic and Financial Affairs Council. In early January Dominic Raab joined other EU foreign ministers at a meeting to discuss Iran.

The Withdrawal Agreement allows for the possibility that the UK could be invited to attend meetings in exceptional circumstances, if the topic is relevant to the UK-EU relationship.

Chris Pincher, the UK’s Europe minister, attended the UK’s last Council meeting on 28 January.

6. UK judges will no longer sit at the European Court of Justice

British judges—Ian Stewart Forrester and Christopher Vajda—will no longer be members of the two courts that form the Court of Justice of the European Union: the Court of Justice and the General Court.

Rulings on the application and interpretation of EU law, which will still apply to the UK in the transition period, and in some cases beyond, will be taken with no input from British judges.

7. EU law will apply to the UK, not as a member state but via the Withdrawal Agreement

EU law will continue to apply in the UK during the transition period.

However, as a technical point, it will be determined by the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than as a Member State.

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill effectively copies over the effects of the European Communities Act for the transition period to ensure legal continuity.

8. The UK can do trade deals with other countries (but it can’t implement them yet)

From 11pm on 31 January 2020, the UK will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify trade agreements with other countries.

While we are in transition, the EU has asked other countries to continue to treat the UK as a member state for trade purposes, so nothing should change.

The UK has already agreed to roll over the EU’s existing trade deals with around 20 countries and trade blocs, and it has held preparatory talks with others which it needs to complete by the time transition ends.

But it can also start formal negotiations with other countries with whom the EU has not had a deal before, something it can’t do as an EU member.

Expect a lot of noise from ministers as these talks start, but the finishing line could be a long way off.

9. EU member states may refuse UK extradition requests for their citizens

Under the European Arrest Warrant, member states must comply with requests to arrest and/or extradite individuals who are wanted in other member states, with only some limited grounds for refusal.

This includes a time limit of 60 days to comply and member states cannot refuse to extradite their own nationals, except in limited circumstances.

The Withdrawal Agreement allows both EU member states and the UK to refuse to comply with such requests from the start of the transition period.

10. Formal interactions with EU will take place through the UK-EU Joint Committee

While the UK was a member state it had a myriad of formal interactions with other member states and EU officials within the EU’s many institutions, bodies and agencies.

That ceases at 11pm on 31 January 2020.

Instead, 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.

This will likely also become the body through which the UK and the EU manage any future trade agreement, as well as other treaties reached on things like security and police co-operation.

By Matt Bevington, researcher at The UK in a Changing Europe.

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