The UK leaves the EU on 1 February 2020 0:00 CET

With a majority of 80 following the UK general election on 12 December 2019, re-elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson has passed the UK Brexit implementation bill into law on Friday 20 December 2019 to fix the UK to end its EU membership on 31 January 2020.

The Withdrawl Agreement

The Brexit implementation bill which will make the agreed treaty between the EU and the UK, the so-called Withdrawl Agreement (WA), legally binding in the UK. It is the law which details how they divorce, who gets the house, the dog, the money etc…and to agree that they will be “orderly” and keep talking. To speak figuratively, rather than marriage, EU and UK agree that they will stay close friends (with certain benefits), open to pursuing other interests than only with each other. Formally, this is then the legal framework governing EU-UK relations after Brexit from 1 February 2020. The WA was revised and agreed at European Council on 17 October 2019 and was still pending ratification in the UK, which triggered the UK elections. Now it will be done, and the UK will formally leave the EU on 31 January 11 pm UK time.

Key provisions of the EU-UK Withdrawl Agreement – from 1 February 2020

The new Withdrawal Agreement sets out the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union with changes to the Northern Ireland ( NI) Protocol to remove the so-called backstop and replace it with other, more complex legislative arrangements, which require border checks between NI and Great Britain (GB):

  • It ensures an orderly withdrawal, notably through a smooth winding-down of ongoing procedures and provisions applicable at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020)

  • Provides for a transition period, until the end of 2020, which can be extended once, by up to one or two years – but the UK said it wouldn’t.

  • Ensures continued application of EU law in and to the UK during that period (but without UK participation in EU institutions and governance structures)

  • Providing more time for administrations, businesses and citizens to adapt. Ensures there is no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It addresses citizen’s rights and financial commitments made.

The UK – EU Free Trade Agreement

The UK government will then have until the end of the transition period on 31 December to negotiate a free trade agreement with Brussels before the trade relationship defaults to World Trade Organization (WTO) terms. Senior EU figures, including the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier, are sceptical that a deal can be agreed within that time. If no agreement can be found by then, the unique Irish arrangements decided upon will kick into place.

Key messages

  • The UK is sure to leave the EU on 1 February 2020, midnight CET.

  • It will be a third country to the EU.

  • The WA will enter into force simultaneously.

  • The WA provides for a transition period, until the end of 2020.

  • The WA ensures continued application of EU law in and to the UK during that period.

  • The WA provides for more time for administrations, businesses and citizens to adapt.

  • The WA seizes to apply on 31 December 2020 and the UK will either:

  • - Apply WTO trading rules only

  • - Apply WTO trading rules + EU/UK FTA


By 1 February 2020, the UK will have left the EU legally; however, the laws and regulations remain in place until 31 December 2020. There is, therefore, no immediate change for globally trading businesses, even though they now have the certainty that the UK will leave the EU. However, uncertainty remains for the period thereafter as to the regulations for 2021 and business have been given breathing space for 12 months. Time to get ready is now, this is no time to sleep! Get Brexit Training now.

Image by DANIEL DIAZ from Pixabay

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