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The March 2018 draft Withdrawal Agreement published by the Commission made clear that while there was agreement between the UK and the EU on significant portions – approximately 75% – of the Withdrawal Agreement, there were also still key areas where agreement had not yet been found. Separately, the European Council and the European Parliament released negotiating guidelines and a resolution on the ‘future relationship’ they envisage with the UK in March 2018. The Council’s document will form the basis of the EU’s side of the negotiations on the ‘political declaration’ that forms the other part of the Article 50 TEU package to be agreed between the UK and the EU on withdrawal.

In the negotiations, there are thus currently two issues at play simultaneously:

  • Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement – these will produce a legally binding text that will need to be ratified by both the UK and by the EU Council of Ministers, and will then become binding upon both parties under international law.
  • Negotiations on the ‘future relationship’ – these will produce a non-binding ‘political declaration’ that will outline, in broad terms, the shape of the ‘future partnership’ negotiations that the UK and the EU hope to conclude once the UK is no longer a Member State.

Both are required to be completed under the terms of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), though in practical terms the Withdrawal Agreement itself is of significantly greater importance and must be in a detailed, finished state by the end of 2018 so it can enter into force within the two-year Article 50 TEU window. The Political Declaration can be as detailed or as general as the negotiating parties determine in 2018, and could thus be a significant or limited factor in the shape of the next negotiations between the UK and the EU – but if the Withdrawal Agreement is not fully agreed and ratified by both parties by March 2019, the UK will not enter into a ‘transition’ period but simply ‘leave’ without a deal.

The EU made clear in early 2018 that it wanted substantial progress on the areas of ‘disagreement’ in the Withdrawal Agreement by the June 2018 European Council. The parties released a joint statement on the progress of the negotiations on 19 June 2018; that formal update is supplemented by commentary from the negotiating parties on the specific areas of negotiations that remain to be ‘agreed’ in this briefing paper.

Documents to download

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