The British have left the European Union, and despite the issue of Brexit dominating politics in the past few years, the complexity of the divorce process has caused a general feeling of incomprehension and fatigue. Yet, the exit of the United Kingdom is something that cannot leave Europeans indifferent, as they must also ask how Brexit will affect them and when this seemingly interminable saga will finally be at an end.
What changes now?
Not much so far. The British no longer have any seats in EU institutions, although in practical terms they continue to be part of the bloc. In other words, the divorce papers have been signed, but while agreement is reached over what type of relationship they want in the future, both parties will continue more or less as usual, at least this year, until the umbilical cord is definitively cut in 2021.
What should we keep an eye on?
The public and companies will have to pay attention over the next few months to how the talks on the future relationship go. That negotiation will involve deciding the new ties between the EU and the UK in such spheres as trade, the movement of people, transport, education, and security.
And they only have 11 months?
In principle, yes. Yet, the European Commission, which is charged with negotiating the new agreement in the name of the EU’s member states, says it does not think it is feasible to get everything done in 2020, and so it is in favour of delaying the UK’s final exit. Yet, that is something the Boris Johnson government will not countenance, as it does not square with its electoral pledge to complete the Brexit process as soon as possible.
When do they have to decide on an extension?
Brussels and London have set July 1 as the date to evaluate whether there is time to negotiate all of the issues. If both parties want it, they can then decide to postpone the UK’s withdrawal for another year or two.
Will EU citizens living in the UK have to leave?
Not if they don’t want to. All EU citizens resident in the UK up to the end of 2020 (unless the withdrawal is extended) will keep the rights they have for the rest of their lives. That is laid down in the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which also lets families be reunited and gives the same rights to the children of these residents, even if born after 2021. Among the rights these citizens will keep is access to the health service, pensions, and other social security benefits.
Will that be automatic, or will they have to complete a special process?
To enjoy these rights, they will have to apply for resident’s status if they have lived for at least five years in the country, or ’pre-resident’ status if they have lived there for less time. They will have to do this the first time they reach the five-year limit. They will not have to pay anything to do this.
And for British people in Catalonia?
The same. They will have the right to continue living, studying and working here as they have done until now. They will not have to complete any special process other than the usual ones they have had to do until now in order to reside in Catalan territory.
And what about after the transition?
In that case the residency conditions could be different. In the next few months, London and Brussels will have to reach agreement on what rights their citizens will have.
Will we have to apply for a visa to go to London? Will we have access to free internet and calls when over there?
At least until December 31, 2020, there will be no need for a visa and mobile roaming conditions will remain the same. From next year, everything will depend on what the EU and the UK negotiate.
Can you do an Erasmus programme this year in Britain?
Yes. Until the end of 2020 there is still time to do an EU-funded programme in a British university. Even those Erasmus programmes funded with the current EU budget that go over into 2021 will be allowed. After that everything will depend on the agreement on future relations that both parties reach.
Will Brexit affect qualifications?
No, the UK is part of the European Higher Education Area and the country’s withdrawal from the EU will not mean any change in official university qualifications.
Will extraditions be possible under the system of European warrants?
For the rest of this year, yes. However, after the transition there is no guarantee that the UK will continue working in this framework of judicial cooperation between states.
Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. Is there no way they can stay inside the EU?
Not unless they become independent states or the UK authorities change their minds. Brexit has reopened the debate on how these two territories fit within the UK. The Scottish government has already asked for another referendum on secession, but so far the Boris Johnson executive has refused. On the island of Ireland there is a growing debate on reunification due to concerns about the divisions that could be caused by Brexit, even though the withdrawal agreement guarantees that there will never be a ’hard border’ between north and south.
What are the guarantees that there will be no border controls?
In the case that there is a definitive break in 2021 without any agreement reached, the UK has made a commitment that Northern Ireland will de facto remain inside the European Single Market, even if it leaves the customs union. All goods that cross the border with Ireland will have to meet European standards. However, the supervision will not take place on the island, but at sea, which means British ports and airports will make sure that products from Northern Ireland destined for the European Union continue to comply with community regulations. This formula will allow Northern Ireland to take advantage of new trade agreements that London makes with countries outside the European Union. This was one of the British government’s main Brexit aims.
Why is no hard border important?
The Northern Ireland peace agreement says there can be no physical border with Ireland. Reintroducing border controls could cause the conflict to flare up again.
Is it similar for Gibraltar?
No. Gibraltar is the UK’s other land border with the European Union and after Brexit becomes effective no special status for it is envisaged, unless a new agreement is reached.
Could we see border controls in Gibraltar?
Both parties will try to avoid that, but it will depend on the talks. Some 15,000 people, most from nearby areas with high unemployment, go to Gibraltar every day from Spain to work thanks to the European Union’s laws guaranteeing free movement. The uncertainty about what agreement on movement London and Brussels will reach and how it might affect the strategic enclave is a cause for concern. London is determined to negotiate future relations for all of its territory, Gibraltar included.
What does Madrid say?
The Spanish government will have a prominent role in the talks that affect Gibraltar, given its historic claim on the territory. The Socialists threaten to veto the agreement if its application where Gibraltar is concerned appears to be detrimental to Spain. To avoid things getting to that point, Pedro Sánchez’s executive has already begun bilateral contacts with the Boris Johnson government to prepare the ground for these negotiations. For the moment, Madrid has demanded a relationship that is “close and fair”.
Could the UK go back on its decision?
Technically, no. In the hypothetical case that the UK decided not to go through with Brexit after all, it would have to apply for readmission to the European Union.
When will Brexit finally be over?
On paper, at the end of 2020. However, the sheer volume and complexity of the negotiations will make it very difficult to get everything done by next year’s deadline. During the divorce proceedings there were a number of postponements, which makes it possible that the Brexit drama could still go on for some time yet.