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Frequently Asked Questions

The General Affairs Council adopted the negotiating directives for the future relationship with the UK on 25 February 2020, authorising the European Commission’s UK Task Force (UKTF), led by Michel Barnier, to begin negotiations. The EU’s draft legal text was published on 18 March. The mandate on which the draft Agreement is based is a result of consultation with and among Member States.  Ireland engaged closely in this process and is satisfied that the mandate reflects our shared values and interests.

The UK published its negotiating directives on 27 February and its draft legal text on 19 May.

The EU and UK have taken part in a series of negotiating rounds, with a schedule in place until early October 2020.

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the procedure for a Member State to withdraw from the European Union, if it should wish to do so. It was first introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.  Article 50 indicates that if any Member State decides to quit the European Union, it must notify the European Council and negotiate its withdrawal from the EU. There are two years to reach such an agreement – unless all Member States agree to extend it. Meanwhile, the exiting state cannot take part in EU internal discussions about its departure.

11 tables of negotiators have been discussing various central issues for the future relationship. All topics considered for inclusion in the future relationship agreement are being discussed in parallel. In between formal negotiating rounds, meetings between the Chief Negotiators and their teams, or in the form of specialised sessions, have been organised.

On the EU side, the negotiating team is led by the European Commission’s Task Force on the United Kingdom, headed by Michel Barnier.  The UK negotiation team is led by David Frost and Taskforce Europe, which works from No. 10 Downing Street.  There is an organigramme  for the EU’s Taskforce, which sets out its organisational structures.

Michel Barnier is the EU’s Chief Negotiator. He leads the Taskforce on Article 50 Negotiations with the United Kingdom (also known as TF50), which was established by the European Commission to prepare and conduct the negotiations with the UK.

There is an organigram for the Taskforce which sets out its organisational structures.

There is a two-year framework for the Article 50 negotiations and for agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement, starting from the day the UK triggered Article 50 (29 March 2017). This can only be extended if all members of the European Council unanimously agree to do so. Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement have now concluded.  On 25 November 2018, the European Council endorsed the Agreement and approved the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship.  The next step is ratification by the EU and the UK.  For the EU, the Council of the European Union must authorise the signature of the Withdrawal Agreement, before sending it to the European Parliament for its consent upon which the Council of the European Union can formally conclude the Withdrawal Agreement. The United Kingdom must ratify the Agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements.

The detailed negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship, including in areas such as trade will only begin once the UK has left the EU on 29 March 2019.

On 25 November 2018, the European Council endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship. 

The Withdrawal Agreement sets out the terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, ensuring that the withdrawal will happen in an orderly manner.

It provides for a period of transition in which all of us can prepare for the new relationship between the EU and the UK, once it has left the EU.

It provides for the rights of UK nationals currently resident in other EU Members States, and EU citizens resident in the UK.

It provides for the orderly winding down of current arrangements across the broad spectrum of EU cooperation, and sets out the financial settlement and governance structures for the withdrawal.

In relation to Irish priorities:

  • It protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process.
  • It translates the commitment - given by the UK and the EU to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland into a legal guarantee. Ireland hopes that solutions for avoiding a hard border can be found as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK.  However unless and until this is the case, the backstop is the insurance policy that guarantees that, whatever the circumstances, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
  • It underpins, in a dynamic way, continuing North South cooperation and the all-island economy.
  • It provides for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, ensuring for British and Irish citizens that the arrangements that have meant that we can live, work and access services in each other’s countries will continue into the future.
  • It confirms that people in the North will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens.

Ireland wants the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, including on trade. This is in line with the European Council Guidelines from December 2017, which reaffirmed the EU’s desire to establish a close partnership with the UK. The Government will be firm in arguing that any future agreement must protect key sectors of the Irish economy given the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and importance of our economic relationship with the UK.

The actual agreement on a future relationship can only be finalised and concluded once the UK has become a Third Country, after it leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. This is why a status quo transitional arrangement is so important.

As well as the important issues around trade, the EU-UK future relationship should also entail continued strong cooperation in a range of other areas such as combatting terrorism and international crime, research, fisheries, the mutual recognition of qualifications, data protection and civil aviation, to mention just a few.

The ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement means that, regardless of the outcome of the Future Relationship negotiations, the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will be in place. The Protocol allows for a set of arrangements to address the challenges of Brexit on the island of Ireland.

The Protocol upholds measures to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, recognise the Common Travel Area, protect continuing North South cooperation and protect the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. It confirms that people in the North will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens.

The EU’s negotiating mandate for  includes language in relation to Ireland’s particular concerns and priorities, including on protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process and in ensuring that issues arising from Ireland’s unique geographic situation are addressed.

The Taskforce for Relations with the United Kingdom negotiates with the UK on behalf of the EU27. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is in regular contact with its Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Irish officials in Brussels and Dublin are in regular, often daily, contact with the Taskforce. Michel Barnier has consistently emphasised the importance of the Irish issues and has visited Ireland, North and South.

In Brussels, Ireland participates actively in the Working Party on the UK. After the UK withdrawal on 31 January 2020, this Working Party replaced the Article 50 Working Party, which was established in 2016 to assist the European Council and Committee of Permanent Representatives in all matters related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Working Party meets on a regular basis. Officials from Ireland’s Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels, which is Ireland’s largest diplomatic mission abroad, attend the Working Party and work closely with their European counterparts to ensure that Ireland’s concerns and objectives are understood by our fellow Member States and are reflected in the EU’s negotiating position.

The European Council is formed by the Heads of State or Government of the EU Member States. Meeting in EU27 format, it defines the framework for the negotiations and sets out the EU's overall positions and principles through guidelines for the negotiations and through the Conclusions of its meetings. It also invited the Council to nominate the European Commission as the Union negotiator.

The European Council adopted the negotiating directives authorising the opening of negotiations with the UK for a new partnership agreement on 25 February 2020.

If no agreement is reached, the EU Treaties will simply cease to apply to the UK on 29 March 2019. The UK will no longer be subject to all of the EU’s agreements, and will no longer have access to the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union, or to their legal and regulatory frameworks.

Ireland’s membership of the European Union will remain unchanged, including its membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.

The Government is working hard with the EU Taskforce and our EU partners to ensure that an agreement between the EU and the UK is reached.

No. Ireland remains fully committed to our membership of the EU and the Eurozone. The EU is a home which we have helped build.

EU membership remains central to the success of our open, competitive economy and has been the foundation for much of the social progress we have made over the last four decades. The Irish people have consistently endorsed our membership of the EU.

Membership of the European Union has brought great benefits to our country and remains profoundly in our interests. We value our access to the Single Market and the benefits our exporters derive from EU trade agreements with other countries.

While the EU will always face challenges, the Irish Government believes the best way to solve our collective problems is by working together.

More broadly, we value being part of a Union with other like-minded democracies who share our values and interests.

Since Ireland joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, life for Irish people has improved significantly. In particular, our membership of the Single Market has transformed our economy into one of the world’s most open, with a diverse range of trading partners. It has helped make us an attractive investment destination, while EU funding has been effectively applied to ensure a modern infrastructure and a very strong education system across the country. Ireland’s historically strong food sector is now a 21st century driver of growth, while innovation and research are at the core of our entrepreneurial society. Membership has transformed our links with other European countries; most prominently, our shared membership of the EU has been very important to the Northern Ireland peace process and to North-South co-operation, and has helped change the context of the Irish-British relationship.

The EU remains fundamental to our interests, to our security and prosperity, and to the wellbeing of the Irish people. Reflecting a continuing broad national consensus, the Government is committed to safeguarding and promoting Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe, as an active and constructive EU member state.

Our membership of the EU has had benefits across all aspects of life, improving our economy and increasing our voice on the global stage. You can read about these improvements and more on the European Commission website.

A debate is now underway across Europe on how best to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Influencing the future direction of Europe should always be a priority for Ireland and this is all the more important for us after Brexit.

Our starting point in this debate is to focus on the needs and concerns of our citizens. A series of successful regional Citizens' Dialogues, engagement with key stakeholders and other events have taken place across Ireland, culminating in a National Citizens' Dialogue on the Future of Europe at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on 9 May 2018.

We want you to get involved in this debate and would encourage you to visit our dedicated Future of Europe website, and explore our Get Involved section to learn how to make a contribution. In September the Government will publish a report on the Citizens' Dialogues, which will feed into a new national statement on Ireland in Europe. This will be Ireland's unique contribution to the wider European debate and to the Leaders' Agenda discussion at the EU Summit in Romania next May 2019.

Transition Period

The transition period began when the UK departed the EU on 31 January and will end on 31 December 2020. During this period, the UK will continue to follow EU rules and the EU will continue to treat the UK as if it were a Member State. There have been no immediate changes for citizens and businesses in their day-to-day dealings.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides for the possibility of an extension to the transition period, if the EU and UK jointly agree to do so.  The UK Government reaffirmed that they would not seek an extension at the Joint Committee meeting between the parties on 12 June. The EU Presidents noted the UK’s decision not to request an extension in the High Level Conference on 15 June.

The deadline to seek an extension was 30 June 2020. The transition period will, therefore, end on 31 December 2020.

The Transition Period is due to run until 31 December 2020. The transition period can be extended by up to 1 or 2 years, if jointly agreed by the EU and UK by 30 June 2020.

Should the transition period end without a new Agreement in place, the implications for the UK and the EU would be serious. The Government will continue to work hard, together with citizens and businesses, to prepare for the end of the transition period.

The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will apply in all circumstances. This dedicated mechanism makes sure that regardless of the path taken in the future EU-UK relationship, the special circumstances of the island of Ireland are recognised and protected by the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by the EU and the UK. There will be no hard border on the island. Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol is an important part of the work ahead.

The Irish and British Governments, supported by the EU, remain committed to maintaining and protecting the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges such as access to education, social protection and healthcare. This is reflected in the arrangements for the UK’s departure from the EU and in the EU mandate on the Future Relationship.