What does the draft Brexit agreement mean for Wales?

(Title Image: UN Human Rights Blog)

External Affairs Committee
The EU Withdrawal Agreement – Implications for Wales (pdf)
Published: 29th November 2018

“As Brexit day draws closer, we find ourselves still searching for the clarity and certainty people need to plan for the future.


“We need the Welsh and UK governments to be open and honest about the various scenarios and the potential impacts for the people of Wales whether the UK Parliament agrees the Prime Minister’s deal, we face a no deal or even if we stay as we are.”
– Committee Chair, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon)

This is due to be debated by AMs, with a constitutionally useless “advisory vote”, tomorrow afternoon and I hope to bring you a full summary then. The important question before then is, “What’s in the agreement?”

1. The Economy, Trade with the EU & Residency of EU Citizens

The Transition Period & Long-Term Agreements

  • Goods placed on the EU market before the end of the transition period on 31st December 2020 (which can be extended before July 2020) will continue to move freely between the UK and the EU without tariffs and largely on the same terms as the UK would have as an EU member state. However, the UK and EU won’t have the same levels of access to each other’s financial services markets.
  • During the transition period, the UK and EU will negotiate a free trade area/free trade agreement with deep regulatory and customs alignment to replace the above arrangements in the longer-term.
  • Any long-term agreement must be based on “open and fair competition”, including provisions on state aid, business competition, social and employment standards, the environment etc.

“The Backstop”

  • If no long-term free trade deal is agreed by the end of the transition period in December 2020, a single EU-UK customs territory will be established (“the backstop”) for tariff-free trade in everything except fisheries produce.
  • During this backstop period, regulatory standards will be the same as the EU – though Northern Ireland will adopt more EU regulations to prevent a “hard border” with the Republic and will, therefore, have different arrangements to the rest of the UK. The UK also has to maintain the same levels of protection for the environment, social/labour standards etc. as the EU.
  • Under the “backstop”, goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will require additional checks, carried out by UK authorities. No checks will be required vice versa.

EU Citizens

  • All EU citizens living in the UK at the end of the transition period will be able to stay in the UK until they’ve lived here for five years and qualify for permanent residency if they choose. If they’ve already lived in the UK continuously for five years they (and close family members as well as children born to them) will be able to live permanently in the UK.
  • EU citizens with professional qualifications (i.e. teachers, doctors, vets, nurses, dentists) will continue to have those qualifications recognised if they apply for recognition before 31st December 2020.

2. Ports & Transport

  • The UK will still have access to some, but not all, EU customs and excise databases.
  • During the transition period, current licensing and access for hauliers and air travel will continue as at present. After the transition period, the goal is to retain similar access through a negotiated agreement.
  • It’s unclear whether the UK will still be part of the European Aviation Safety Agency, though before the end of the transition period the EU and UK will seek to negotiate an Air Transport Agreement.
  • Closer alignment of regulations and customs rules between the EU and UK at the end of the transition period will mean fewer checks and controls being required at borders (such as Holyhead and Fishguard).

3. Agriculture, Food & Fisheries

  • Agricultural goods placed on the EU market during the transition period will continue to be traded as they are now, though live exports and animal products will be subject to additional checks; imports will only be subject to EU law as EU law will still apply to the UK during this period.
  • After the transition period, agricultural trade will either be governed by a free trade agreement or the “backstop” arrangements – exports will generally be governed by EU law and imports by UK law, though additional checks will be required on agricultural exports to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
  • The UK will no longer be a part of the Common Agricultural Policy at the end of the transition period, so direct payments to farmers will end and the UK (presumably Wales as agriculture is devolved) will be free to develop its own agriculture policies.
  • On the same basis, the UK will no longer be a part of the Common Fisheries Policy and a separate agreement on fishing rights and access to waters is required.
  • Geographical protection of products will continue to be mutually recognised by the UK and EU.

4. Energy & Environment

  • EU environmental law will continue to apply in the UK during the transition period.
  • During any “backstop”, the UK will be unable to lower EU environmental targets or create any new environmental rules which are laxer than EU rules. Northern Ireland will still have to comply with EU laws completely.
  • Longer-term, the UK and EU have agreed to put in place mechanisms to allow energy to be traded in “a cost-effective and timely way”, with co-operation on carbon trading, climate change targets and nuclear energy (the UK will be completely withdrawing from Euratom – the EU’s atomic energy agency).
  • The UK has committed to creating an independent body to enforce environmental laws and bring legal action for breaches.

5. Healthcare & Social Security

  • As mentioned earlier, there are reciprocal arrangements for EU citizens regarding residency and professional qualifications (including healthcare).
  • Medicines and medical devices will continue to move freely between the UK and EU until the end of the transition period in 2020; longer term, they’ll be subject to either a free trade agreement or the “backstop” arrangements which may require additional paperwork.
  • UK participation in EU agencies during the transition period will be on a case-by-case basis and the UK can still attend certain meetings if invited (though without voting rights). Longer-term, the UK will be treated as a “third party”.
  • UK and EU citizens will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover and European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) cover in their respective countries if they move before the end of the transition period – this includes people moving for work and study.  British and Irish citizens will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover during any “backstop” period under the Common Travel Area (this hints UK citizens will lose EHIC rights in the EU and vice versa after the transition period – meaning you’ll have to pay for medical treatment if you fall ill in the EU [except the Republic of Ireland] from January 1st 2021 if no long-term agreement is reached – though this isn’t 100% clear).
  • The rights of UK citizens who are not living in the EU at the end of the transition period but have paid social security contributions in an EU member state will be protected.

6. Equalities & Human Rights

  • Most of the human rights provisions in the withdrawal agreement relate to Northern Ireland; the UK has agreed not to diminish any rights or responsibilities set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement – this will be monitored and enforced by human rights organisations in Northern Ireland.
  • During the transition period, the UK will still need to observe the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights with two exceptions – UK citizens will no longer have a right to stand and vote in elections to the European Parliament and EU citizens will no longer have a right to stand and vote in UK elections (and vice versa), though in the case of the latter, the UK can decide whether to allow them to do so or not.
  • Any long-term agreement must include commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (neither of which are EU institutions).
  • Concerns have been raised by witnesses over whether people will be able to stop the UK Government rolling back certain aspects of labour and employment law after Brexit despite “non-regression” clauses in the draft agreement.

7. Institutional Arrangements

  • The UK will no longer be a part of any EU decision-making from 29th March 2019; Wales’ representation on the Committee of the Regions, EU Parliament and other EU committees ends.
  • During the transition period, representatives of the UK may be invited to take part in certain meetings where it’s deemed necessary (such as dealing with an issue directly relating to the UK) – but without voting rights.
  • A Joint Committee of EU and UK representatives will meet at least once a year (with sub-committees) to discuss the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and to resolve disputes.
  • A specific committee dedicated to Ireland will be set up if the “backstop” arrangements come into effect after the transition period.
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