Questions & Answers:

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement


The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement covers the following areas: trade in goods and in services, digital trade, intellectual property, public procurement, aviation and road transport, energy, fisheries, social security coordination, law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, thematic cooperation and participation in Union programmes. It is underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field and respect for fundamental rights.

The Agreement will confer rights and obligations on both the EU and the UK, in full respect of their sovereignty and regulatory autonomy. It will be governed by an institutional framework on the operation and enforcement of the Agreement, as well as binding dispute settlement and enforcement mechanisms.

The EU-UK Agreement respects the principles set by the European Council in April 2017, including the need to protect the integrity of the Single Market, the indivisibility of its four freedoms, and the integrity of the EU’s legal order, while ensuring that a non-member does not enjoy the same benefits as what EU membership offers.

On 1 January 2021, the United Kingdom will lose all the rights and obligations it had as an EU Member State and during the transition period under the Withdrawal Agreement. It will no longer benefit from seamless access to the EU Single Market and Customs Union, or from EU policies and international agreements (including its free trade agreements with other third countries).

This will create new barriers to trade in goods and services, and to cross-border mobility and exchanges that do not exist today – in both directions. While the new agreement will serve to limit disruptions compared to a situation without an agreement being in place, public administrations, businesses, citizens and stakeholders on both sides will inevitably be affected. The Commission has issued extensive guidance on how best to deal with these changes (available here).

 How long did it take to negotiate the deal?

Negotiations on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement formally began on Monday, 2 March 2020. Nine formal rounds of negotiations were held in Brussels, London, and via videoconference (due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic) between March 2020 and October 2020. From that point onwards, negotiations were intensified, with contacts taking place on a daily basis, seven days a week. More information on each negotiation round is available here.

Before this, the EU and the UK had spent over two years negotiating the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (from June 2017 to October 2019). During that time, the EU and the UK also negotiated the general terms of their future relationship and agreed to this end on a joint Political Declaration, concluded alongside the Withdrawal Agreement on 17 October 2019.

On the EU side, the negotiations were led by the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier and the Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom (UKTF) together with all Commission services. Negotiations were based on negotiating directives set by the Council, taking into account the resolutions of the European Parliament.

Throughout these negotiations, the European Commission has ensured an inclusive process, holding regular meetings with the 27 EU Member States, with the European Parliament and national parliaments, as well as with EU consultative bodies, stakeholders and civil society. The Commission sought to ensure the highest possible levels of transparency throughout the process. In March 2020, the Commission services published a draft legal text of the Agreement.

 Provisional application and ratification process

The entry into application of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is a matter of special urgency.

  • The United Kingdom, as a former Member State, has extensive links with the Union in a wide range of economic and other areas. If there is no applicable framework regulating the relations between the Union and the United Kingdom after 31 December 2020, those relations will be significantly disrupted, to the detriment of individuals, businesses and other stakeholders.
  • The negotiations could only be finalised at a very late stage before the expiry of the transition period. Such late timing should not jeopardise the European Parliament’s right of democratic scrutiny, in accordance with the Treaties.
  • In light of these exceptional circumstances, the Commission proposes to apply the Agreement on a provisional basis, for a limited period of time until 28 February 2021.

The Commission has proposed Council decisions on the signature and provisional application, and on the conclusion of the Agreement.

The Council, acting by the unanimity of all 27 Member States, is to adopt a decision authorising the signature of the Agreement and its provisional application as of 1 January 2021. Once this process is concluded, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK can be formally signed.

The European Parliament will then be asked to give its consent to the Agreement.

As a last step on the EU side, the Council must adopt the decision on the conclusion of the Agreement.

Will there be enough time to translate the document into all EU languages?

The Commission is aware of the exceptional nature of these negotiations. Every effort has been made to conclude these negotiations in due time to allow for the proper democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament and Council. Given the short time left, flexibility will be needed in all these processes.

The Commission’s translation services are working hard to ensure that translated versions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement are available in the coming days.

Do national parliaments play a role in the ratification process?

Throughout the negotiations, the European Commission has held regular meetings with national parliaments of all 27 Member States to keep them fully informed.

The Commission is of the view that the Agreement with the UK can be concluded as an EU-only agreement since it covers only areas under Union competence, be it exclusive or shared with the Member States. The Commission has chosen Article 217 TFEU as the legal basis for the conclusion of the Agreement. This requires the unanimous agreement of the Member States in the Council and the consent of the European Parliament.

Withdrawal Agreement: have you resolved all outstanding issues? What will you do about the Internal Market Bill and Taxation Bill?

The United Kingdom left the European Union on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement, which was agreed and ratified by both sides, and entered into force on 1 February 2020.

The Withdrawal Agreement contains, amongst others, provisions on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and a legally operative solution to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protecting the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions while safeguarding the integrity of the EU’s Single Market.

The rigorous, timely and full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is and will always remain a key priority for the EU.

On 9 September 2020, the UK government published the Internal Market Bill, which would have enabled the United Kingdom to unilaterally suspend parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, and notably of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. This bill was in clear breach of the Withdrawal Agreement – and therefore international law. As a result, on 1 October 2020, the Commission sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. This marked the beginning of a formal infringement process. The European Parliament also signalled that it would not give its consent to any agreement on a future partnership if the UK went forward with this proposal.

On 17 December 2020, the EU-UK Joint Committee met to endorse all formal decisions and other practical solutions related to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. As part of these mutually agreed solutions, the UK has agreed to withdraw the contentious clauses of the UK Internal Market Bill, and will not introduce any similar provisions in the Taxation Bill.

Thanks to intensive discussions between the EU and the UK in the Joint Committee and the various Specialised Committees, the Withdrawal Agreement – and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, in particular – will be implemented on 1 January 2021.

Table of Contents:

  1. Trade in goods
  2. Services and investment
  3. Digital trade, intellectual property, public procurement and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  4. Energy
  5. Level playing field for open and fair competition and sustainable development
  6. Aviation
  7. Road transport
  8. Social security coordination and visas for short-term visits
  9. Fisheries
  • Law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
  • Thematic cooperation
  • Participation in Union programmes
  • Governance: dispute settlement and horizontal provisions


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