On 23 June 2016, UK citizens voted to leave the EU. On 29 March 2017, the UK formally notified the European Council of its intention to leave the EU. On 17 October 2019, the European Council (Article 50) endorsed the withdrawal agreement as agreed by the negotiators of both sides. It also endorsed the revised political declaration on the framework of the future EU-UK relationship.
The Council has adopted, by written procedure, the decision on the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement on behalf of the EU. This follows the European Parliament's vote of consent on 29 January and the signature of the withdrawal agreement by the EU and the United Kingdom on 24 January. The withdrawal agreement will enter into force upon the UK's exit from the EU, on 31 January 2020 at midnight CET. From that time on, the UK will no longer be an EU member state and will be considered as a third country.
The withdrawal agreement ensures an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union. It covers citizens' rights, the financial settlement, a transition period, protocols on Ireland/Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Gibraltar, governance and other separation issues. The entry into force of the withdrawal agreement marks the end of the period under Article 50 TEU and the start of a transition period until 31 December 2020. This transition period, foreseen in the withdrawal agreement, aims to provide more time for citizens and businesses to adapt.
During the transition period, the UK will continue to apply Union law but it will no longer be represented in the EU institutions.
According to Article 132(1) of the withdrawal agreement, the transitional period can be extended once for a period of up to one or two years, if both sides agree to this before 1 July 2020. The direct consequence of this would be that the legal status of UK nationals and their family members would no longer be governed by the Free Movement of Persons/EU Act but by the Residence Act.
This result is avoided by the Act for the transitional period following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union (Brexit Transitional Act - BrexitÜG). This is because this law, which came into force after § 4 with the withdrawal, stipulates in § 1 that the United Kingdom is to be regarded as a notional member state of the EU during the transitional period.
The negotiations on the future partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom will begin as soon as the United Kingdom has left the EU. The framework for future relations is set out in the political declaration agreed by both sides in October 2019. The Treaty of Accession also sets out the rights of EU citizens and their family members in the UK and, conversely, the rights of UK nationals and their family members in the EU.
Article 10(1)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union stipulates that Union citizens who have exercised their right to reside in the United Kingdom before the end of the transitional period in accordance with Union law and who continue to reside there after that date shall be covered. The same applies in reverse for UK nationals. The rights of residence will continue to exist by adopting the rules of existing EU law. Article 39 provides for lifelong protection of Union citizens and their family members who are currently entitled to free movement, as long as they continue to meet the conditions of free movement. If freedom of movement ceases to exist, the Union citizen or the United Kingdom national loses his or her right of residence on the basis of the contract of withdrawal. The question of whether he or she must leave the country will then depend on the national law of the country concerned.
The definition in Article 9(a) of the exit treaty defines the concept of family members in accordance with the applicable Union law. Subsequent family members are covered by the agreement if they reside in the host Member State in accordance with Union law before the end of the transitional period:
- Life partner,
- Family members in descending line up to the age of 21, i.e. children and grandchildren, family members in descending line from the age of 21, if they are under the age of 21.