The Withdrawal Agreement is specifically not about any permanent future relationship with the EU. This is further expanded on in the accompanying outline Political Declaration, which sets out the framework of the future relationship between the EU and the UK. However, negotiations on the future relationship are ongoing and the Withdrawal Agreement will not be signed without an agreed Political Declaration on the UK’s future relationship, on the continued basis that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'.
The Withdrawal Agreement is 585 pages long, and specifically outlines how the UK leaves the European Union. This covers a number of significant areas, including issues such as citizens’ rights; the transition period; financial provisions; and provisions relating to Northern Ireland.
Some of the most notable details contained in the document are as follows:
- A deal on citizens’ rights that protects the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. Details of this include ensuring that, for UK/EU nationals seeking a new residence status, their new host country must ensure a 'smooth, transparent and simple' administrative procedure, and application forms must be 'short, simple and user friendly'. Applications made as a family at the same time will also be considered together.
- A Joint Committee will be established with representatives from both the United Kingdom and European Union. Matters of the withdrawal agreement will be handled by this Joint Committee.
- A time-limited implementation period is set out, beginning after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 and ending on 31 December 2020. However this can be extended if decided by the joint committee before 1 July 2020.
- The financial settlement is set out to cover the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing Member State, in accordance with its legal obligations.
- The proposed ‘Irish backstop’ - the mechanism that will ensure there will be no hard border between Ireland and the UK if any trade deal agreed in the transition period fails to deliver no hard border - is set out. The backstop will consist of 'a single customs territory' between the EU and UK, and will apply from the end of the transition period until a subsequent agreement becomes applicable. When either side considers the backstop is no longer necessary, it can notify the other, and a joint committee must then meet within six months, after which both sides must agree jointly to end the backstop.
- Regarding immigration, the agreement will mean an end to freedom of movement of people. The UK and the EU has agreed that citizens will not need visas to travel between countries for tourism and temporary business activity.
- On policing and judicial cooperation, there is an expectation of cooperation for any requests made between the UK and EU member states during the transition period. This includes the European arrest warrant, European Investigation Orders, freezing and confiscation orders, new criminal proceedings, requests for information for ongoing proceedings, and the participation in certain joint investigation teams. The ECJ will continue to have jurisdiction over the UK in any proceedings brought by or against the UK before the end of the transition period.
- On Intellectual Property, the agreement outlines that anybody with a European Union trade mark will ‘without any re-examination’ obtain a trade mark in the UK.
- A Protocol on Gibraltar which will form part of a wider package of agreements that address issues of importance to citizens and businesses in Spain and Gibraltar and reflect the parties’ desire to work together in support of the shared prosperity and security of the area.
The Agreement can only move forward if the remaining 27 EU countries ratify the plan at a special Brexit summit on 25 November. Most crucially, the agreement must then secure the agreement of Parliament, which is anticipated to occur in mid-December 2018, and will require the backing of a majority of MPs from across the political divide. If this challenge is overcome, the European Parliament would then have to approve the withdrawal agreement in January/February 2019, ahead of the planned Brexit date of 29 March 2019.