What does the withdrawal agreement entail?


The United Kingdom left the EU on 1 February 2020. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, a transition period has begun during which most practical matters will continue as before. Subsequently, the future relationship is intended to take effect.

Hans Dahlgren and Magdalena Andersson at a press conference.
Minister for EU Affairs Hans Dahlgren and Minister for Finance Magdalena Andersson at a press briefing on the Government’s preparations ahead of Brexit. Photo: Ninni Andersson/Government Offices of Sweden

The transition period means that the UK will continue to be part of the internal market and the customs union, and subject to the Court of Justice of the European Union. During an initial phase, therefore, trade with, travel to, and other exchanges with the UK will continue as before. The transition period will end on 31 December 2020. 

The transition period is intended to provide time for adjustment to that which from 1 January 2021 will become the future ties between the EU and the UK. The timetable is very tight for putting the contents of the future relationship in place. You can read more about the negotiations on the future relationship on the following page:

EU’s future relationship with the UK

Apart from the transition period, the Withdrawal Agreement also regulates a number of other issues that need to be dealt with as a result of the UK’s withdrawal.

These concern particularly affected citizens – Swedes and other EU citizens resident in the UK, and Britons here in Sweden. The provisions mean that their situation will change very little, and Swedes currently living in the UK will continue to be able to live, work, study and retire there, for example. The agreement covers all of the issues that concern citizens in their everyday lives, i.e. residence rights and social security benefits, such as social insurance, health and medical care, pensions, unemployment insurance, student grants and various forms of family benefits. Recognition of certificates of education and other professional qualifications is also covered.

Moreover, the Withdrawal Agreement regulates the UK’s contributions to the EU budget. The agreement means that the UK will pay as a member towards the entire current long-term budget up to the end of 2020.

There are also provisions on other ‘separation issues’ to clarify what applies for ongoing police cooperation, goods placed on the market and many other things.

The Withdrawal Agreement in brief

The Withdrawal Agreement contains 185 articles and three protocols. It contains the following parts.

Common provisions

Rules to understand and interpret the agreement. It is made clear that they have the same legal force in the EU as in the UK. The rules have direct effect, which means, if they are precise and clear, they can be cited directly by private individuals before national courts. EU legal terms are to be interpreted in accordance with EU law and taking into account the practice of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Citizens’ rights

Rules that mean that UK nationals in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK retain their rights. They cover those who have availed of their right to reside until the end of the transition period. They apply to those concerned with family members and children, including those not yet born.

Separation provisions

These clarify what applies at the end of the transition period for a number of ongoing procedures, granted rights, etc. 

For example:

  • goods placed on the market
  • customs procedures
  • intellectual property rights and protected geographical designations of origin
  • ongoing police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
    use of data and information
  • public procurement
  • state aid

Transition period

This means that the UK, in practical terms, remains in the EU until the end of 2020. It will apply EU laws and regulations, follow the Court of Justice of the European Union, but not participate in decision-making. The transition period will end on 31 December 2020. 

Financial provisions

The UK will pay as a member for the entire duration of the current long-term budget, until the end of 2020. After 2020, it will contribute what is outstanding under the long-term budget or previous commitments.

Implementation and dispute settlement

A Joint Committee of representatives of the EU and the UK will be responsible for the implementation and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement. If the Joint Committee cannot agree on an issue, the EU or the UK may request the establishment of an arbitration panel, whose decision will be binding on the parties. If matters of EU law are raised, the panel must obtain an opinion from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland
(revised compared with the November 2018 version)

This establishes the necessary arrangements for handling the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and aims to avoid the creation of a hard border. Northern Ireland will remain in the EU single market for goods, but leave the EU customs union. In essence, the new solution means that Northern Ireland will apply all parts of the EU acquis required to eliminate the need for checks at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, including with regard to customs and value added tax. However, legally, Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK’s customs territory, which means that customs will not be levied on exports of goods from Great Britain that can be proven will not leave Northern Ireland. For certain defined goods, no checks will be made – the detailed regulation of this will be left to the Joint Committee to determine. The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is given the opportunity to give its approval to Northern Ireland remaining in the arrangement, for the first time four years after the end of the transition period and every four years thereafter. If the Northern Ireland Assembly does not give its approval to remain, a two-year period begins, during which the Joint Committee is to propose how to deal with the situation.

In addition, the Withdrawal Agreement contains a protocol on the sovereign base areas in Cyprus and a protocol on Gibraltar.

The Withdrawal Agreement on the EUR-lex website

Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in Sweden

The Withdrawal Agreement is EU law and where relevant is directly applicable in the Member States. Therefore, most parts of it do not need to be incorporated into Swedish law.

However, to some extent the Withdrawal Agreement needs to be supplemented with provisions in Swedish law. This concerns citizens’ rights in terms of the right of affected UK nationals and their families to continue to travel to, live and work in Sweden after the withdrawal.

You can read more about the proposed supplementary provisions and follow the process here:

Supplementary provisions to the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU concerning citizens’ rights (In Swedish)