During January and February 2020 the EU, together with its member states, formulated initial common position and negotiations with the UK started from March 2020. For the EU side, negotiations were once again led by Michel Barnier and his team. The negotiators acted within the limits set by the instructions of the European Council and by the negotiating directives of the Council of the EU. The aim of the negotiations was to address all topics covered by the Political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK, which has been agreed on by the UK and the EU in November 2019 and signed together with the Withdrawal Agreement. The declaration establishes the parameters of “an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation with a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement at its core, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation”.
The EU and the UK faced an unprecedented challenge with regard to the negotiations of a future partnership agreement. It usually takes years to negotiate an agreement of such scale and ambition. The transition period however allowed only for about 9-10 months to seal the deal and draft a legal instrument. Despite several complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic the negotiations were very intense and both parties entered in them with elaborate proposals. The EU negotiators put every effort into the negotiations and strived to get the best deal possible. In many areas the parties found common ground very quickly. However, there were areas in which the major disagreements prevailed until the last moment. The parties disagreed mainly on the concept of “level playing field” (i.e. the horizontal rules ensuring fair competition), fisheries arrangements, law enforcement and judicial cooperation and governance issues (i.e. the rules on application and interpretation of the agreement and dispute settlement mechanism).
On 24 December 2020 the negotiations came to an end and the negotiators agreed on three agreements on future relationship. Both sides had to speed up standard ratification processes. The Council of the EU and all member states reviewed and discussed the agreements during the Christmas holidays. The leaders of the EU signed the agreements on 30 December 2020. The British parliament approved of the agreements and the UK prime minister Boris Johnson signed them on the same day. The agreements were published in the Official Journal of the EU on 31 December 2020 and are provisionally applicable as of 1 January 2021.
The agreements are undoubtedly a huge accomplishment. However, there will be significant changes in the relationship of the EU and the UK starting from 2021 since it will not be possible to maintain the same level of association with the UK. UK will no longer have access to many benefits of the membership of the Union, amongst many others for example the access to the single market and customs union. There will inevitably be some barriers in the trade with goods and services and the mobility of persons.
The outcome of the negotiations – agreements on the future relationship
The EU and the UK concluded three agreements:
- Trade and Cooperation Agreement
- Agreement Concerning Security Procedures for Exchanging and Protecting Classified Information
- Agreement for Cooperation on the Safe and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement
is the main concluded agreement. It sets out preferential arrangements in areas such as trade in goods and in services, digital trade, intellectual property, public procurement, aviation and road transport, energy, fisheries, social security coordination, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, thematic cooperation and participation in Union programmes. It is underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field and respect for fundamental rights and by overarching governance framework. The agreement doesn’t cover cooperation in the field of foreign policy, external security and defense. The UK refused to include this area in the agreement.
The Security of Information Agreement
allows for an exception from the standard regime for the exchange of classified information between the EU and third countries. The agreement sets out more effective conditions for the exchange of classified information between the EU and the UK and offers strong guarantees as to the handling and protection of the exchanged information.
The Agreement for cooperation on the safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy
provides for wide-ranging cooperation on safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It is underpinned by commitments by both Euratom and the UK to comply with international non-proliferation obligations and uphold a high level of nuclear safety standards.
You can find more information about the concluded agreements on the website of the European Commission (see „Useful links“ below).
Texts of the agreements: