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Brexit Blog: Britain exits the European Union

31 January 2020
There is no doubt that this is a politically significant moment and now negotiations will begin in earnest for a meaningful future relationship with the EU, on the basis of the agreed Political Declaration, and also to strike trade deals with other countries, including the USA.  

At 11pm on Friday 31st January 2020 the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union. In many ways though the impact of this momentous step won’t be felt amongst UK businesses and residents until at least the end of the year because almost all the laws and controls will remain the same during a transitional period agreed on 17 October 2019 under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and lasting until at least 31 December 2020. However, there is no doubt that this is a politically significant moment and now negotiations will begin in earnest for a meaningful future relationship with the EU, on the basis of the agreed Political Declaration, and also to strike trade deals with other countries, including the United States of America.    

The UK General Election in December 2019 produced a decisive result and a clear mandate for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who campaigned on a promise to "Get Brexit Done". As a result, the United Kingdom exiting the European Union became a formality, with the EU Withdrawal Bill clearing an emotional European Parliament on 29 January 2020 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill 2019-20 having passed into UK law on 23 January 2020. 

Britain leaving the EU brings to an end over three years of political wrangling, which has resulted in successive extensions to the Article 50 process.The last extension, to 11pm on 31 January 2020, was made through a Statutory Instrument which amended the definition of 'exit day' in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.    

From a legal perspective, the focus now shifts to what 'Post Brexit Law' will look like. We know that under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement there will be a transitional period during which EU law will apply as before until 31 December 2020.  This period may be extended by agreement between the UK and the EU but the Prime Minister has previously stressed an intention not to do so. 

Thereafter, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 the European Communities Act 1972 shall be revoked and an estimated 12,000 regulations will be incorporated into domestic law (with modifications to address deficiencies).  The current arrangements are subject to any changes which may be agreed as part of the UK-EU future trading relationship.

However there are some immediate implications of the UK leaving the EU on 31st January 2020, which include losing political representation within the EU system, for example there will no longer be UK MEPs. Likewise the UK Representation to EU ("UKREP") will now be called "UK Mission to the EU" highlighting that the UK is no longer within the central influencing system. There will be other impacts for the UK, for example the BBC reports that German Law only allows the extradiction of German citizens to EU countries, which will now exclude the UK.

A more subtle change will be in the political agenda, with Brexit no longer being the main political focus.  Rather, the Conservatives hope to shore up support in the newly acquired Northern seats with a wave of regeneration and infrastructure projects.  This includes addressing transport issues, such as taking Northern Rail back into public sector control and deciding whether to proceed with HS2.  The Conservative Manifesto also contains a commitment to create the United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund and further devolve  power away from Westminster.

Conclusion

The UK leaving the EU is an end of an era. However who expect significant and immediate change may be disappointed that almost all of the same laws and systems will continue to apply during a transitional period agreed under the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement.  Rather, meaningful change will be expected to happen at the end of that period and will be subject to the outcome of trade negotiations for a future trading relationship with the EU and other countries, such as the USA. Businesses, public bodies and citizens will need to adapt to new Post-Brexit law and we shall be publishing regular updates to assist with this as negotiations and proposals for new domestic law develop. 

How we can help

DWF has a breadth of expertise in Brexit related matters. We are able to draw upon a team of leading experts, in our UK, Brussels and other international offices, who have extensive experience in this area, including working within the UK Government on Brexit matters, within the European Commission on public funding and helping business leaders quickly adapt to new laws and regulators. Please contact us if you need any further information or assistance.

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