The UK is no longer a member of the European Union (EU), but that’s not the end of Brexit.
UK and EU officials are trying to agree how their future relationship will work.
Why is Brexit still being talked about?
Even though Brexit happened on 31 January 2020, both sides still need to work out the rules for their new relationship. This includes everything from trade, immigration, aviation, security and access to fishing waters.
These rules have to be negotiated and signed off by the EU and UK Parliaments by the end of the year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson says an agreement on trade must be done by 15 October – if the new relationship is going to be ready in time.
But didn’t the UK already leave the EU with a deal?
Yes, the UK did leave the EU on 31 January 2020 with a deal called the withdrawal agreement.
However, this deal only set out the process of how the UK would leave the EU, not the future relationship. It covered areas like:
- Citizens’ rights
- How to stop checks along the Irish border
- The UK’s financial settlement.
Negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship were always intended to be held after Brexit day and during the transition period.
The transition is an 11-month phase which started immediately after Brexit day. It was designed to give both sides breathing space to negotiate their future relationship.
During this time, the UK still follows EU rules and trade between the two is the same as before.
The transition period ends on 31 December 2020 and the deadline for extending it has now passed.
What happens if there’s no trade deal by 31 December?
When transition ends, the UK will automatically drop out of the EU’s main trading arrangements (the single market and the customs union).
The single market means that countries share the same rules on product standards and access to services, whereas the customs union is an agreement between EU countries not to charge taxes (tariffs) on each other’s goods.
If a new trade deal is not ready then tariffs and border checks would be applied to UK goods travelling to the EU. The UK could also do this to EU goods, if it chose to.
Tariffs would make UK goods more expensive and harder to sell in the EU, while full border checks could cause long delays at ports.
Failure to reach a deal would also result in the UK service industry losing its guaranteed access to the EU. This would affect everyone from bankers and lawyers, to musicians and chefs.
Even if a trade deal is reached, it would not eliminate all checks – so UK businesses will need to prepare.
- UK-EU trade talks: A simple guide
- Brexit trade deal: What are the sticking points?
- Seven things that changed after Brexit day
- What is the transition period?
If there was no agreement in place, then trade with the EU would automatically fall back on basic World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
As well as trade, other aspects of the future relationship – such as immigration rules, fishing access and security cooperation – also need to be signed off. If not, then no-deal plans will be required in these areas for 1 January 2021 onwards.
What about the Irish border?
Brexit was originally meant to happen on 29 March 2019. However, finding a way to avoid checks along the Irish border became one of the major sticking points.
Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, came up with an arrangement known as the Irish “backstop”.
However, it proved unacceptable to many Conservative MPs who feared it would keep the UK closely-tied to the EU.
After MPs rejected Mrs May’s deal, the Brexit deadline had to be delayed twice.
Mrs May then resigned as PM on 24 July 2019 after MPs voted down the deal for a third time.
Mr Johnson – who replaced Mrs May – scrapped the Irish backstop and replaced it with the Northern Ireland (NI) protocol.
Under the NI protocol, Northern Ireland will continue to follow some EU rules in order to avoid checks along the Irish border after the transition period ends.
However, the arrangement will mean that some goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain will be subject to checks instead. The precise nature of these checks is still being negotiated.
After securing these changes to the Brexit deal, Mr Johnson called an early general election, which MPs agreed to.
The election, which happened on 12 December 2019, resulted in a Conservative majority of 80.
With a sizeable majority in Parliament, it proved straightforward to pass the Brexit legislation, allowing the UK to leave the EU nearly four years after the referendum first took place.
After prolonged negotiation and infighting, the UK family agreed on withdrawal deal with the EU and officially exit the blocked on January 31 this year. But the prolonged agreement is only about the terms of the UK separation from the you the EU. The more important deal, specially for Britain economy, is the one that sets out its post-brexit relationship with the EU, including on Trade and immigration. If the deal is not struck for the end of this year it would result in a UK business losing guaranted access to the European market. Experts have long warned that such a situation would hit the British economy very hard.