Thursday, 31 December 2020

A New Year: a new beginning

The United Kingdom became a member of the European Communities on 1 January 1973. Those communities developed, via a long and winding road, into the modern-day European Union.

The many twists and turns of the often turbulent relationship between the UK and the EU need not be traced here and doubtless many histories will be written. 

UK membership ceased on 31 January 2020 (previous post) and the UK entered a transition period lasting for the remainder of 2020. The transition period masked the impact of Brexit.

Leaving the EU was a break

from a body with a membership of 27 States, a population of around 450 million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of about 15.626 trillion US dollars in 2019. Numerous" trade deals" are in place from which the UK benefited. A number of deals have been "rolled-over" so that they continue to apply from 1 January.

After 31 January 2020, the UK became, in EU parlance, a "third country" and it was then possible to enter into negotiations about the future relationship. The negotiations were difficult and were made all the more arduous by the coronavirus pandemic but, on 24 December, it was announced that a number of agreements had been reached and, in particular, a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) - previous post 26 December.  

On 29 December, the European Council used written procedure to adopt a decision that the agreements could be signed - (see HERE) - and stated that the agreements will provisionally apply from 1 January 2021. The agreements can only be concluded on the EU side after the European Parliament has given its consent.

The Agreements were duly signed by both parties on 30 December 2020 - European Council Press Release and Politico 30 December 2020

On 30 December, the UK Parliament was recalled and enacted the European Union (Future Relatonship) Act 2020 to enable the agreements to be implemented in domestic law. Further details in this previous post.

The agreements therefore apply to both EU and UK from 2300 GMT 31 December (midnight CET). Application of the agreements is provisional until the earliest of - (a) 28 February 2021 (or another date as decided by the Partnership Council) - (b) the date when all processes for ratification have been completed.

The agreements are complex and there will doubtless be difficulties ahead. Aspects of the rather "thin" deal have been examined on this blog and elsewhere but the deal is far prefereable to the alternative of no deal at all. It was on that basis that the majority of MPs and members of the House of Lords voted in its favour.

The entire Brexit process has stress-tested the UK's uncodified constitutional arrangements and has resulted in deep division particularly between the strongly pro-EU Scottish nation and the UK government. It is highly doubtful that this division can be solved between the present Conservative government and the Scottish government dominated by the Scottish National Party (SNP).  Developments on that are for the future but developments there will be !  

Regarding Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Protocol (part of the Withdrawal Agreement) prevents a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This was achieved at the expense of friction for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. (The previous Prime Minister - Theresa May - said that no British Prime Minister could accept such an arrangement).

Progress has also been made for Gibraltar - see the Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement.

There is a new beginning to the UK-EU relationship based on agreement rather than an acrimonious split. Although there will be problems ahead it is to be hoped that goodwill prevails and that the relationship can develop into a prosperous, settled and peaceful future.

The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the news in 2020. Serious questions about how it is has been handled will doubtless require answers but, with vaccines becoming available, it is to be hoped that 2021 can see this threat minimised. That would enable much 'normal' activity to resume. 

Optimism leads to positivity and it is that spirit that I hope all readers have the very best New Year that is possible. Thanks to the many who have read the blog. It has been much appreciated.

Key Agreements:

Withdrawal Agreement 2019

The Draft EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement 

The Draft EU-UK Security of Information Agreement 

The Draft EU-UK Civil Nuclear Agreement  

Draft EU-UK Declarations


European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 - the Act was mostly brought into force at 11 pm on 31 December 2020 ("IP Completion Day") by The European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 (Commencement No. 1) Regulations 2020 - (SI: 2020/1662). Sections 21, 27 and 34 come into force on 1 March 2021.

Fisheries Act 2020

Agriculture Act 2020

Taxation (Post Transition-Period) Act 2020

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020

European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018  

Key dates:

(1) 23 June 2016 - Referendum - resulted in an overall UK vote to leave the EU but majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland wished to remain; 

(2) 29 March 2017 - Article 50 notification sent to EU - that set a date of 29 March 2019 to leave but extensions were requested and granted;

(3) 31 January 2020 - UK left the EU under the terms of a Withdrawal Agreement (19 October 2019) which provided for a transition period - (UK government preferred to call it an Implementation Period);

(4) 31 December 2020 - transition period ended - Transition could have been extended under the terms of the withdrawal agreement but the UK government did not wish to extend.

House of Commons - Brexit Timeline - This paper provides a timeline of the major events leading up to the referendum and subequent dates of note, including Brexit Day itself.  There will of course be future developments and, for this reason, it will perhaps take a considerable time before a full history can be written.

End note:

Public Law for Everyone 31 December 2020 - Professor Mark Elliott - The UK-EU Brexit agreements and sovereignty: Having one's cake and eating it.

and for the very legally minded ...

Loxology - Retained EU law - a practical guide 

UK in a Changing Europe has many articles covering the consequences of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

31 December 2020

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