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 had 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. This 2-year period can be extended, if the UK and the European Council agree.
Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union requires the EU to negotiate an agreement with the member state that is withdrawing, setting out the arrangements for withdrawal and taking account of the framework for the member state’s future relationship with the EU. In 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.
The European Commission is representing the EU27 (all European Union members excluding the UK) as a whole in negotiating the UK’s withdrawal agreement. There are no separate negotiations between individual EU member states and the UK.
The Commission has set up a Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom. The chief negotiator is Michel Barnier.
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 of 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 in December 2017, 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 concerns 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 for negotiation include future cooperation in security, defence 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.
It is important to note that the UK is currently a member of the European Union and that it will continue to be a member while negotiations are taking place.
Draft withdrawal agreement
The EU Commission’s Task Force published a draft withdrawal agreement 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. If no solutions are reached before the UK’s scheduled withdrawal, a backstop option has been agreed in principle. 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.
In June 2018, the EU and UK jointly published information about progress made in negotiations on the draft withdrawal agreement.
In November 2018, the EU and UK reached an agreement on the entirety of the Withdrawal Agreement at negotiator level. This draft withdrawal agreement includes a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland that sets out how a backstop arrangement will be used to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The agreement must now be ratified by both the EU and the UK – see ‘How the negotiations will finish’ below.
An outline of the Political Declaration on the future EU UK relationship (pdf) has also been agreed. The EU and UK will use this outline as a basis for negotiating the final terms of the framework for their future relationship.
Transition period after the UK leaves the EU
In January 2018, the European Council agreed negotiating directives for transitional arrangements after the UK leaves the EU. The period after UK withdrawal is known as the transition period. The proposed end date for the transition period in the negotiating directives is 31 December 2020.
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 with countries outside the EU – although they cannot come into force until 1 January 2021.
How the negotiations will finish
The negotiations on the withdrawal agreement must be completed by 29 March 2019, 2 years after the UK gave notice under Article 50 of its intention to leave the EU. At the end of the negotiation period, the proposed withdrawal agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament. Both institutions will 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 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.
Proposed settlement scheme for EU citizens in the UK
EU citizens and their family members living in the UK must apply to the EU settlement scheme (pdf) for settled status. Settled status means that you can live in the UK for as long as you want. You will have access to public funds and services and you can apply for British citizenship. Any children born in the UK after you get settled status will automatically be British citizens.
The proposed scheme is due to open fully by March 2019 and remain open until 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021, you must hold settled status or have applied for a UK immigration status to live in the UK legally. In general, it costs £65 to apply (£32.50 for children under 16).
If you are an Irish citizen
You do not need to apply for settled status to remain in the UK after Britain leaves the EU. Your rights to live, work and access public services in the UK are protected under the Common Travel Area arrangement. If a withdrawal agreement is not agreed, these rights will still be protected.
Even though you do not need to apply for settled status yourself, your family members from outside of the UK and Ireland do need to apply.
If you are an EU citizen or family member of an EU citizen
Under the proposed scheme, you can apply for settled status. The deadline to apply is 30 June 2021 (but you must be resident in the UK by 31 December 2020).
To be eligible, you must:
- Be an EU citizen or a family member of an EU citizen
- Have been living in the UK continuously for 5 years
- Be living in the UK by 31 December 2020
If you have not lived in the UK continuously for 5 years when you apply, in general you are eligible to get pre-settled status. Pre-settled status allows you to remain in the UK for 5 years. When you reach the 5 year continuous residence threshold, you can then apply for settled status.
When you apply for settled status
The application form will be available online. If you need help completing the form, you will be able to get support in person or over the phone, when the scheme is open.
When you apply, you must verify your:
- Residence in the UK
- Relationship to an EU family member (if you are from outside the EU)
If you are an EU citizen, you can use a valid passport or national identity card to verify your identity. If you are not an EU citizen, you can use a valid passport or a biometric residence card.
You can permit the UK Home Office to check HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data that may verify your residence in the UK. If you need to provide evidence yourself, you can use documents such as P60s, bank statements and utility bills.
You will be asked about your criminal history when you apply and this will be checked against the UK’s crime databases. You may still get settled or pre-settled status if you have criminal convictions. This will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
If you are not an EU citizen
As well verifying your identity and residence in the UK, you will also need to provide evidence of
- Your relationship to your EU citizen family member
- Your family member’s identity and residence in the UK
If you do not have a biometric residence card, you also have to provide fingerprints and a photo of your face at an application centre in the UK.
If you are a close family member, for example a spouse, civil partner, a dependent child or grandchild, or a dependent parent or grandparent, you can apply to join your EU citizen family member in the UK at any time – there is no closing date. However, your relationship with this person must have existed on 31 December 2020 and must continue to exist when you apply to move to the UK.
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.
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 also remain unchanged as negotiations continue.
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.