Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement to be fully operational on 1 January 2021

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Thursday, December 17 2020.

The EU-UK Joint Committee met virtually today to endorse all formal decisions and other practical solutions related to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, as of 1 January 2021. It follows an agreement in principle reached by the Joint Committee co-chairs - European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and the UK Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove - on Tuesday, 8 December 2020.

The Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in particular, will now be implemented on 1 January 2021. This means delivering on our overarching objective to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, thereby maintaining peace, stability and prosperity, as well as preserving the integrity of the EU's Single Market.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said: “Throughout this year, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that both the letter and spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement are respected and translated into viable solutions. These now provide businesses and people in Northern Ireland with clarity and stability, while upholding the integrity of our Single Market. Today therefore marks an important milestone. I am committed to paying full attention as to how our mutually agreed solutions work on the ground. To that effect, the Joint Committee will continue to meet regularly during the upcoming year.”

The Joint Committee adopted five decisions today, namely:

  • Four decisions on the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (a decision on the practical arrangements for Union presence in Northern Ireland, a decision on goods “not at risk” of entering the EU's Single Market, a decision on the exemption of agricultural and fish subsidies from State aid rules, and a decision to correct some errors and omissions in Annex 2 of the Protocol);
  • One decision on the extension of social security coordination to EEA countries and Switzerland (as of 1 January 2021), and;

The Joint Committee also took note of the list of 25 persons, including 5 chairpersons, to serve as members of the arbitration panel for the dispute settlement mechanism under the Withdrawal Agreement. This will be adopted shortly.

As this was the last meeting before the transition period expires at the end of the year, the Joint Committee also reviewed other main areas of implementation: citizens' rights, financial provisions, other separation issues, and the Protocols on Gibraltar and on Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.

The Joint Committee endorsed the second Joint Report on the implementation of residence rights prepared by the Specialised Committee on Citizens' Rights. While providing an update on national residence schemes, the Joint Report now also covers communication, outreach and assistance measures that support EU citizens and United Kingdom nationals. The Joint Committee also decided to publish the Joint Report.

The co-chairs took note of the intense and constructive work between the Parties that will facilitate a smooth adaptation to the post-transition reality. To that effect, they have also agreed to convene the Joint Committee on a regular basis throughout 2021.

Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland

In addition to the decisions taken today by the Joint Committee, the EU and the UK have made a series of unilateral declarations to ensure an orderly, consensual approach to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as its substantive provisions start to apply from 1 January 2021.

This covers a number of areas, including Border Control Posts specifically for checks on animals, plants and derived products, export declarations, the supply of medicines, the supply of chilled meats, and other food products to supermarkets, and a clarification on the application of State aid rules under the terms of the Protocol.

The EU and UK have agreed on the practical working arrangements for EU representatives exercising their rights under Article 12 of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. These arrangements will ensure that EU representatives will have the necessary capabilities to ensure that the Protocol is correctly implemented by the UK authorities in Northern Ireland, thereby protecting the integrity of the EU Single Market. In practice, this means that these tasks will take place at all places where goods and animals enter or exit Northern Ireland through ports or airports. The UK has agreed to provide adequate equipment and facilities, as well as continuous, real-time access to their relevant IT systems and databases, both on the ground and remotely, to enable the effective exercise of the EU's rights under the Protocol.

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.

Arbitration Panel

Today's Joint Committee took note of the list of persons who will serve as members of an arbitration panel established under the Withdrawal Agreement, and confirmed its imminent adoption. The EU and the UK will each have 10 ordinary members of the arbitration panel and 5 jointly selected persons will serve as chairpersons of arbitration panels.

The list is composed of persons whose independence is beyond doubt, who possess the qualifications required for the appointment of the highest judicial office in their respective countries or who are legal professionals of recognised competence, with specialised knowledge of Union law and public international law.


The United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union at midnight on 31 January 2020. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the United Kingdom is in a transition period until 31 December 2020.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which forms an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement, also entered into force on 1 February 2020. Most of its substantive provisions only become applicable after the end of the transition period, i.e. as of 1 January 2021.

EU law on free movement of EU citizens will cease to apply to United Kingdom nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK at the end of the transition period. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for a set of rules that protect the right of residence of more than 4 million EU citizens in the UK and 1 million United Kingdom nationals in EU Member States. Correct and timely application of the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement is a priority that the UK, the EU and its Member States share.

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