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Brexit: the New Rules of the EU-UK Relationship

By Charlotte Paule, MSc Politics of Asia

After months of negotiation and worries over the UK crashing out of the European Union (EU) without a proper trade agreement, a deal was finally reached on 24 December. While the UK had already left the EU on 31 January 2020, this new deal comes after a one-year transition period and establishes new rules of work and trade, among other things, between Britain and the European bloc.

So, what has been agreed on? What will change in our everyday lives in the UK? And what will the future UK-EU relationship look like? Agreements, or temporary agreements, have been reached on the major areas of trade, services, travel, fisheries, security, education, and the Northern Ireland border.

1 January saw the commencement of a free trade agreement, which stipulates there will be no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the EU and the UK. However, new checks have been put into place at the border, which has created longer delays and other disruptions. Service sector professionals have also lost their automatic access to the EU market, and professional qualifications will not always be recognised anymore. But since it is not part of the EU anymore, the UK is now free to negotiate and sign free trade agreements with any country, and has already begun talks with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Travel has also been made slightly harder, as UK nationals will now need a visa to stay in the EU longer than 90 days in any 180-day period. A new immigration system has also been put into place for EU nationals wanting to settle in the UK, as they now need to apply for a visa. For instance, a student visa now costs £348 outside of the UK, and each person will need to pay a £624 health surcharge every year. In a surprising turn from their original position, the UK has also withdrawn from the Erasmus academic exchange programme. It has, however, announced a new scheme that will be unveiled in September 2021, and will cover countries all around the world. Telephone companies are also not banned from applying roaming charges, also both the EU and the UK have set caps on how much extra can be charged.

One of the more contentious issues during the negotiations was the question of fisheries. The UK was eager to regain complete sovereignty over their fishing waters, and found a compromise with the EU in the form of a 5-year-long gradual decrease of EU boats on UK waters.

The UK has also left Europol, the EU’s cooperative police organ, and will not have automatic access to European security data.

The case of the Irish border was also a major topic in the negotiations. In the end, it was decided that there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but that the whole Irish island would continue to follow EU rules. As such, some checks have been put into place for goods coming from the UK into Northern Ireland.

While this deal means that the disruptions in people’s daily lives will be limited, we can still expect to see some bumps in the road. First, aspects of the agreement, such as in regards to fisheries, are only temporary. From 2026 onwards, negotiations on fishing access will restart between the two powers. Second, not all decision making, especially on data sharing and financial services, have been finalized. Finally, because the EU or the UK can choose to reinstate tariffs the ‘level-playing field’ is not respected anymore. This means that while they are not legally bound to, the UK will have to maintain EU-levels of standards and regulations to be able to freely trade on the continent.

‘While this deal smoothed out many aspects of the future EU-UK relationship, which for now is limited to free trade and a few agreements on regulations and immigration, it does not prevent future disruptions’

Thus, the end of ‘Brexit’ is still yet to be reached. While this deal smoothed out many aspects of the future EU-UK relationship, which for now is limited to free trade and a few agreements on regulations and immigration, it does not prevent future disruptions. It is yet to be seen whether future negotiations will be less hectic and conducted in a more timely manner.

Photo caption: Mural painted by street artist Banksy in March 2017 near the ferry terminal in Dover, showing a worker chiseling out one star out of the EU flag (Credit: Dunk, Flickr).

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