International Agreements if the UK leaves the EU without a deal

Posted on Friday 8th March, 2019 by

The UK greatly values its relationships with partners across the globe and is seeking to preserve and strengthen these as we leave the European Union.

These relationships are governed in a number of ways: through formal and informal cooperation and collaboration; dialogues; Memoranda of Understanding; regulatory arrangements; and in some cases through international agreements and treaties.

As the UK leaves the EU, it will also leave a number of international agreements to which it is currently party by virtue of EU membership. The Government is committed to preserving the relationships governed by these agreements.

In the scenario whereby the UK leaves the European Union with a negotiated deal, alongside the Withdrawal Agreement the EU has agreed to notify treaty partners that the UK is treated as a Member State for the purposes of international agreements during the Implementation Period, providing a basis for continuity until the end of this period. From the end of this period, the UK would no longer be covered by these agreements (with exceptions in the case of mixed multilateral agreements, as detailed further below).

To prepare for the end of the Implementation Period or a ‘no deal’ scenario, Government has been undertaking a significant programme of work to identify which international agreements need to be retained on exit, and to put in place arrangements with international partners to replicate the effects of the current agreements.

In some cases, this will be through a formal successor treaty between the UK and a third country or group of countries. In other cases, this will be through another type of arrangement, for example a Memorandum of Understanding. There are other areas where no formal agreement is required but where the UK will be able to cooperate with international parties in the same way as present.

The official EU Treaty Database lists over 1000 international agreements that the EU holds with partner countries and international organisations. The majority of these do not require action on exit: many are superseded; relate to a one-off event; or are not required in order to enable the UK to cooperate with partner countries in the same way after exit. The Government is committed to transparency as we leave the EU and to ensure business and citizens have the information available to prepare for all scenarios.

This guidance provides an update on the status of individual international agreements that the Government is transitioning. It covers those that the Government is taking steps to deliver with international partners, and provides the latest picture on what is expected to be in place by exit day on 29 March. Information is given on the status of each individual agreement: whether engagement is ongoing; whether there will be a gap, and if so when the agreement is expected to come into force where this is known; or whether a mitigation will be in place to ensure continuity of effect from exit day.

These pages will be regularly updated according to new information about any other agreements as they are progressed. If an agreement is not specifically listed, the UK is not taking forward work with international partners to deliver a successor agreement and so it will not be in place by 29 March 2019. For specific questions on individual international arrangements, please contact the relevant Government department as listed.

Further detail and background

What are international agreements?
Through membership of the EU, the UK is covered by a large number of EU international agreements. These international agreements cover political, security, economic and other forms of collaboration and cooperation with over 100 third countries and cover a range of sectors for example aviation, trade, nuclear, environmental, fisheries and political agreements.

What will happen to these agreements on EU exit?
Delivering a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement with the EU remains the Government’s top priority. If the UK leaves with a deal, the EU has agreed that it will notify treaty partners and third countries that the UK is treated as an EU Member State for the purposes of its international agreements during the Implementation Period up until 31 December 2020. This approach provides a basis for the UK to continue to be covered by EU international agreements during the Implementation Period. During this period, the UK will also be able to negotiate, sign and ratify new international agreements that come into effect after the Implementation Period ends.

However, this Government is also continuing to plan for all eventualities, including a no deal scenario. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it will no longer be covered by EU-only international agreements, or by “mixed” bilateral agreements between the EU and its Member States on one hand, and a third party on the other, unless the UK and the third party agree to transition the agreement or agree other measures to ensure continuity of effect.

The UK will remain a party to most mixed multilateral agreements after exit day, where it is already a party in its own right. A mixed agreement covers areas of both Union and Member State competence and is an agreement to which both the EU and some, or all, of its Member States are party. A mixed agreement can be multilateral (eg the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation, and climate change agreements) or bilateral (eg some aviation and free trade agreements), and is an agreement to which both the EU and some, or all, of its Member States are party. Whether or not the UK will remain a party to mixed agreements after exit day will depend on the terms and structure of the agreement in question.

The UK is also working to amend any UK-Third Country Agreements that are affected by exit. In addition, the UK is working with international partners to deliver continuity across a range of wider arrangements such as regulatory agreements, MoUs and data adequacy decisions.

How has Government approached this issue?
To identify which agreements are relevant, we have been working with international partners over the last two years to understand which agreements of mutual benefit will be impacted by exit. The Government has been working with international partners to put in place successor agreements or to take steps to accede to multilateral agreements to deliver continuity where relevant in order to provide certainty and to prevent disruption for businesses and citizens. These successor arrangements would come into effect after exit from the EU, on day one or shortly thereafter in a ‘no deal’ scenario, or after the end of the Implementation Period. In delivering this work, we have been open and transparent with the EU, and will continue to do so in line with our duties as a Member State.

The Government has also engaged with the devolved administrations (DAs) on the overall policy approach of ensuring continuity, as well as on specific agreements that touch on areas of devolved competence. Individual departments have worked with the DAs to ensure that they have been involved in this process, and have supported implementation planning and operational readiness.

How many international agreements is the Government transitioning?
Over the last two years the Government has been working with non-EU countries to identify agreements that need action and which need to be transitioned in a no deal scenario.

This work is accelerating in the run-up to 29 March. Of these agreements, the majority will either be in place (subject to Parliamentary scrutiny where required) or discussions are ongoing for delivery for a no deal scenario in view of their importance. For many of the agreements that will not be in place on exit, there are mitigations that can be used to ensure continuity of effect. The status of specific agreements is available through the links below.

The EU Treaty Database carries a full list of all international agreements that the UK is covered by via membership of the EU. Whilst there are over 1,000 agreements listed, many do not need action.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Many of the agreements listed:

  • Are not relevant to the UK, for example agreements relating to the use of the Euro or the accession of a Member State;
  • Relate to cooperation with other countries and can be replicated through other means, for example whilst the EU favours treaty-based arrangements to cooperate with other partners, we can cooperate to build bilateral relationships without needing a treaty and have put in place other mechanisms with partner countries, such as through dialogues and Memoranda of Understanding;
  • Have been superseded, for example the EU Treaty database lists three agreements with Australia that concern trade in wine, two of which have been superseded by the other;
  • In many cases, replacement agreements incorporate several EU-third country treaties as set out in the list below. For example, the new Swiss trade agreement combines 8 original agreements into a single, overarching agreement.
  • In some instances, the UK signed the agreement as a member in its own right and so the UK’s membership will continue. This is the case for mixed multilateral agreements, where an agreement covers areas of both Union and Member State competence. For example, we will remain in the WTO and party to the Paris Climate Change agreement.

Parliamentary scrutiny of International Agreements
Once signed by the UK and relevant third country or countries, the majority of international agreements that are being delivered need to go through Parliament for domestic scrutiny in order to be ratified and achieve full legal effect.

The Government’s intention is to lay treaties subject to ratification before Parliament under the CRaG Act in the normal way. Given that there are limited sitting days between now and exit for agreements where the full parliamentary scrutiny processes of the UK and the third country have not concluded by exit day, we are considering whether there are other means through which we can provide business and stakeholders with continuity and certainty from day one.

One such mechanism which may be available for certain agreements is provisional application, where the UK and the third country agree to apply a treaty “provisionally” from exit day for a period of time until the full domestic processes have completed and the treaty enters into force. In exceptional cases it may be justified for the Government to use its powers under Section 22 of the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act 2010 and ratify a treaty without parliamentary scrutiny, thus ensuring continuity from exit day.

Territorial application – UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories
The UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories have relationships with the EU. These relationships mean that the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are part of the EU for certain purposes, and have the benefit of some of its international agreements. Generally speaking, EU law applies to Gibraltar to the same extent that it applies to the UK. However, Gibraltar is not part of the EU customs union and rules on free movement of goods do not apply there.

The Crown Dependencies participate in the EU to a limited extent (including customs rules and trade in agricultural products) due to Protocol 3 of the UK’s accession to the EU. The UK Government has adopted a general policy of continuity of effect in relation to international agreements – this policy also applies to the territorial scope of agreements. As a result, if an EU agreement applied in a Crown Dependency or Overseas Territory, it is in general the Government’s policy that the transitioned continuity agreement should apply to the same territories to the same extent.

EEA Agreement
It is not the Government’s intention to transition all agreements in their entirety. This includes the EEA Agreement, the EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement and the Ankara Agreement.

The EEA EFTA States (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) participate in the EU Single Market through their membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA Agreement is the primary basis for the UK’s current cooperation with these countries in a number of important areas, including on trade and citizens’ rights to reside and work. The trade elements of our relationship with these countries are described in the guidance.

In the absence of any further action, the EEA Agreement will no longer operate in respect of the UK when we leave the EU, including in a no deal scenario. However, if the UK leaves with a deal, the EU has agreed that it will notify treaty partners and third countries that the UK is treated as an EU Member State for the purposes of its international agreements during the Implementation Period up until 31 December 2020. This includes the EEA Agreement. Once the Implementation Period ends, the UK will no longer be covered by the EEA Agreement.

The UK and the EEA EFTA states have reached an agreement, which will mean that in a ‘no deal’ scenario UK and EEA EFTA nationals living in each others’ countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today. The Government has also published guidance on how the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be open to EEA EFTA nationals, will work after exit day.

EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement
Through the UK’s membership of the EU, we are party to the EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement. In a no deal scenario, this agreement will no longer apply to the UK from exit day.

The UK and Switzerland have reached an agreement which will mean that in a no deal scenario UK and Swiss nationals living in each others’ countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today. The Government has also published guidance on how the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be open to Swiss nationals, will work after exit day.

We are in discussions with Switzerland on transitional arrangements for UK workers wishing to move to Switzerland and Swiss workers wishing to move to the UK after exit in a no deal scenario. We are close to reaching an agreement and details on this will be published in the near future.

Agreement creating an Association between the Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (Ankara Agreement)
Turkey’s relationship with the EU is largely governed by the Agreement creating an Association between the Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (also referred to as the “Ankara Agreement”) and its additional protocols and council decisions. The trade elements of our relationship with Turkey are described in the guidance.

Turkish nationals enjoy particular rights derived from the Ankara Agreement. Following exit from the EU, the UK’s obligation to this agreement falls away either after 31 December 2020, or earlier in a no deal scenario. However, as a transitional arrangement, the UK will seek to replicate the effect of the ECAA arrangements for the resident Turkish population. This will allow resident ECAA workers and ECAA business persons and their family members to apply for further leave with similar eligibility requirements as they have now, and apply to settle in the UK. We have not yet entered into any commitments in respect of Turkish nationals arriving after the UK’s departure in a no deal situation.

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