The sole purpose of the withdrawal agreement is to ensure the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the European Union. It does not contain any provisions on future EU–UK relations. Negotiations on the future relationship can only be started after the UK has left the EU.
Principal content of the withdrawal agreement
The withdrawal agreement comprises 185 articles, three protocols and nine annexes. The agreement is divided into six parts.
- Common provisions (articles 1–8) contain provisions on the enforcement, application and interpretation of the agreement.
- Citizens’ rights (articles 9–39) contain provisions that secure the status and rights of EU and UK citizens and their family members that are based on European Union law.
- The main purpose of the separation provisions (articles 40–125) is to provide legal certainty so that procedures that are based on the application of EU law and pending at the end of the transition period can be concluded in accordance with EU legal acts. Part three also lays down the special provisions that are needed for ensuring the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).
- Part four (articles 126–132) specifies a transition period that is needed between the withdrawal and the future relationship. The transition period will last at least until the end of 2020. Current EU law would continue to apply to and in the UK. The only notable difference would be that the UK would withdraw from EU institutions and bodies and not take part in decision-making of the Union.
- Financial provisions (articles 133–157) ensure that the UK honours all financial obligations it has made during its EU membership. This part also sets out the arrangements that apply to the UK’s participation in programmes funded through the current multiannual financial framework until their completion.
- Institutional and final provisions (articles 158–185) specify rules that ensure a consistent interpretation and application of the agreement. In addition, these provisions establish a joint committee for the governance of the agreement and specify the dispute settlement mechanism. Part six also sets out the objective that the parties should reach an agreement on their future relations before the end of the transition period.
The protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland and its ten annexes contain the so-called backstop solution, the aim of which is to avoid strict border control measures between Ireland and Northern Ireland. These provisions would apply after the transition period and remain in effect only until their full or partial replacement by a subsequent agreement.
The withdrawal agreement also contains a protocol on the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) of the United Kingdom in Cyprus and a protocol on Gibraltar, which lays down provisions on the specific issues that the UK’s withdrawal causes for Gibraltar.