Following the result of the UK’s referendum in 2016 on leaving the European Union, the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the United Kingdom and the European Union on 23 January 2020 finally received Royal Assent from Her Majesty the Queen, the last step in the UK’s legislative process. The final steps to be taken by the EU and the UK towards ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement are expected to be completed over the next several days, so that the UK will leave the EU at 23.00 (UK time) on 31 January 2020. A “transition period” will then start immediately and will last until 31 December 2020, unless agreed by both the EU and the UK to be extended. During the transition period, most existing EU laws and new EU laws will continue to apply, or be implemented, in the UK (even though the UK will then no longer be a member of the EU) and most references in EU laws to EU member states will continue to include the UK.
During the transition period, the UK and the EU will attempt to negotiate the future EU-UK relationship (as far as possible in the available time), based on the terms set out in the political declaration on the framework for such relationship. However, no major changes to UK law should become effective before the end of the transition period.
To the extent that the UK and the EU fail to reach agreement by the end of the transition period on aspects of the future relationship, the potential remains for significant disruption in those areas for the UK and the EU, and some commentators have referred to this scenario as the “second no-deal Brexit”. The UK government has stated that no extension of the transition period will be requested, which has been interpreted by some commentators as limiting the realistic ambitions of what can be included in the future relationship agreement.
Although there will generally be no need for wholesale changes to legal agreements and processes during the transition period, references in contracts or other documents to the European Union or the European Economic Area or EU institutions will need to be modified after 31 January 2020, to the extent that they are intended to include references to the UK or UK institutions.
If you require assistance with any Brexit-related issues or questions, please feel free to reach out to your MoFo contacts or to one or more of our Brexit panel, consisting of Peter Green, Jeremy Jennings-Mares, Alistair Maughan and Howard Morris.