Guide to Brexit

Brexit - what it means

On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU). The UK leaving the EU is known as ‘Brexit’ (short for ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’).

On 29 March 2017, the UK gave notice to the European Council under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (pdf) of its intention to leave the EU. From this date, the EU and the UK have 2 years to negotiate arrangements for the UK to leave. This means that the UK is expected to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. These 2 years can be extended, if the UK and the European Council agree.

On 29 April 2017, the European Council adopted a set of political guidelines which define the framework for the negotiations and set out the EU's overall positions and principles. These guidelines state that the EU wishes to have the UK as a close partner after it withdraws from the EU.

What happens next

The negotiations

Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union requires the EU to negotiate an agreement with the UK, setting out the arrangements for withdrawal and taking account of the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The European Commission is representing the EU as a whole in negotiating the UK’s withdrawal agreement. There are no separate negotiations between individual EU member states and the UK.

The first phase of negotiations focused on the most immediate issues. The 3 priority issues were:

  • The rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
  • The framework for addressing the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland
  • The financial settlement needed for the UK to honour past financial commitments

The first phase of negotiations concluded with both parties agreeing in principle how these 3 issues would be progressed. You can read the joint report (pdf) from the negotiations.

The second phase of the negotiations will address the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK. Discussions about trade agreements have been central to the continued negotiations. Other issues to be addressed include future cooperation in security, defense and foreign policy.

One of the EU’s core negotiating principles is that the withdrawal agreement must be a single comprehensive package, with no individual matters being settled separately to the agreement as a whole. This means that if both parties cannot agree on a significant issue – such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – this could undermine the withdrawal agreement as a whole.

Draft withdrawal agreement

A draft withdrawal agreement was published in February 2018. This includes protocols on citizens' rights, transitional arrangements, Ireland and Northern Ireland and institutional provisions, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The protocol on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland has not been agreed and is still part of the ongoing negotiations between the EU and the UK. However a backstop option has been agreed in principle, which will be implemented if no other solutions are agreed before the UK’s scheduled withdrawal. This would see Northern Ireland keep full regulatory alignment with the rules of the EU single market and customs union, avoiding the need for a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. How exactly this arrangement would be implemented continues to be negotiated.

If the backstop option is enforced, the EU and UK can continue to negotiate other possible arrangements while it is in place. If both parties agree a different protocol, the new protocol will then replace the backstop arrangement.

It is important to note that the UK remains a member of the European Union. It will continue to be a member while negotiations are taking place.

Transition period after the UK leaves the EU

On 29 January 2018, the Council of the EU agreed negotiating directives for transitional arrangements after the UK leaves the EU. This is known as the transition period.

During the transition period the UK will remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and stay within the single market and the customs union. All EU regulations will continue to apply to the UK, including changes made to these regulations during this period. However, the UK will no longer have voting rights in the institutions of the EU. During this time the UK can make trade deals – although they cannot come into force until 1 January 2021.

The proposed end date for the transition period is 31 December 2020.

How the negotiations will finish

There are many matters still to be negotiated between the UK and EU. Agreeing a protocol on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is foremost amongst these.

The negotiations on the withdrawal agreement must be completed by 29 March 2019, two years after the UK gave notice of its intention to leave under Article 50. At the end of the negotiation period, the proposed withdrawal agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament. Both institutions then vote on the agreement:

  • The European Parliament must approve the proposed agreement by a vote of simple majority (where 15 or more member states vote in favour)
  • The European Council must then approve the agreement by a vote of strong qualified majority (where 20 or more member states vote in favour and together these states represent 65% or more of the total EU population)

The UK must also ratify the agreement.

If a withdrawal agreement is formally endorsed by both parties, the EU Treaties will cease to apply to the UK from the date on which the agreement enters into force.

If no such agreement is reached, the EU treaties will no longer apply to the UK on 29 March 2019 – 2 years after the UK’s notification of withdrawal. The European Council can decide to extend this deadline by a unanimous vote (where every member state – including the UK – votes in favour).

Brexit and you

The EU will continue to use the English language after Brexit.

The rights of Irish and UK citizens under the Common Travel Area (CTA) will be protected after the UK leaves the EU. Both Irish and UK citizens will continue to be entitled to live, work and access social services in each of the two territories.

The EU and UK have reached an agreement (pdf) in principle on the rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU after Brexit. This will become legally binding once the withdrawal agreement has been agreed.

Under this agreement EU citizens and their family members in the UK will need to apply for settled status. Settled status means you will be free to live in the UK indefinitely, have access to public funds and services and go on to apply for British citizenship.

You must meet the criteria and submit a valid application. (An online application form is expected to go live in late 2018.)

If you have been living continuously and lawfully in the UK for 5 years by 31 December 2020, you will have to apply for settled status.

If you have not been living continuously in the UK for 5 years when the UK leaves the EU, you will be able to apply for a temporary residence permit. When you reach the 5-year threshold you can then apply for settled status.

The scheme will remain open until 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021, it will be mandatory to hold settled status or a temporary residence permit.

For more information on applying for settled status in the UK, see the UK Government's information page for EU nationals.

There is guidance for UK nationals living and travelling in the EU on gov.uk.

Social security

The current arrangements for social security between Ireland and the UK have not changed. All social welfare payments made by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, including pensions and Child Benefit, continue to be paid as normal.

Social security arrangements between the UK and the EU27 (the European Union members, not including the UK) also remain unchanged as negotiations continue.

Our role

The Citizens Information Board will track any changes to rights and entitlements that are likely to affect Irish citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Ireland. We will update this webpage with information as it becomes available, with a particular focus on residence, employment, social welfare, healthcare, education and consumer law. We will also update the main information pages on citizensinformation.ie.

Useful websites and publications

You can find information for businesses on the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s website.

See useful information in the document Building Stronger Business – Getting Brexit ready (pdf) and on Brexit preparedness from the European Commission’s website.

You can get information on the Brexit negotiations from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s website and the website of the European Commission. You can also sign up for the Government’s Brexit update emails.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has published frequently asked questions about Brexit, covering future implications for Ireland.

Page edited: 4 May 2018