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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/international-agreements-if-the-uk-leaves-the-eu-without-a-deal/international-agreements-if-the-uk-leaves-the-eu-without-a-deal
International Agreements if the UK leaves the EU without a deal
The UK greatly values its relationships with partners across the globe and is seeking to preserve and strengthen these as we leave the European Union.
These relationships are governed in a number of ways: through formal and informal cooperation and collaboration; dialogues; Memoranda of Understanding; regulatory arrangements; and in some cases through international agreements and treaties.
Through EU membership, the UK is party to a large number of EU international agreements spanning a range of sectors [footnote 1] and with over 100 partner countries. As the UK leaves the EU, it will leave international agreements to which it is currently party by virtue of EU membership. The Government is committed to preserving the relationships governed by many of these agreements.
In some cases, this will be through a formal successor treaty between the UK and a third country or group of countries. In other cases, this will be through another type of arrangement, for example a Memorandum of Understanding. There are other areas where no formal agreement is required but where the UK will, in practice, be able to cooperate with international parties in the same way as present.
Government has been undertaking a significant programme of work to identify which international agreements need to be transitioned on exit, and to put in place arrangements with international partners to replicate the effects of the current agreements. We have assessed approximately 2,100 agreements, as well as EU Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) to determine what action is required. A large number of these agreements and MoUs do not require action on exit because: they are not relevant to the UK; many are superseded; the UK does not have any commercial interest in transitioning them; they are agreements the UK signed in its own right; or are not required in order to enable the UK to cooperate with partner countries in the same way after exit.
In the event of no deal, the UK will be able to bring into force replacement agreements across key sectors. The UK will also accede as an independent contracting party to a range of multilateral agreements to which we are a party only via our membership of the EU.
This guidance provides an update on the status of individual international agreements that the Government is transitioning. It covers those that the Government is taking steps to deliver with international partners, and provides the latest picture on what is expected to be ready for exit day. Information is given on the status of each individual agreement as follows:
Will be in Place: Agreement ready to enter into force on day one of exit, or only administrative or domestic implementation steps outstanding in order for agreement to enter into force on day one.
Expected to be in Place: Agreement on track to be in place for day one, and may have been initialled or agreed in principle, but some steps, such as signature or ratification, remain outstanding.
Engagement Ongoing: Discussions are ongoing with the third country.
Not Expected to be in Place: Existing obstacle(s) to the finalisation of text, signature, or ratification that is unlikely to be overcome in time for day one entry into force.
Will Not be in Place: Not possible to conclude for day one. In some cases, the agreement will nonetheless be in place shortly after day one.
Some of these agreements listed are still subject to parliamentary procedure, or ratification by the third country partner. Furthermore, some agreements are not yet confirmed to be in place on October 31 for a number of reasons, including where:
- Negotiations are ongoing with third countries, which includes a range of different agreement types, including continuity trade and customs cooperation agreements.
- Agreements are dependent on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
In some instances where it is not possible to bring a replacement agreement into force on day one, Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) will be used to maintain cooperation, or the replacement international agreement will be provisionally applied between the UK and the third country, pending completion of parliamentary and ratification procedures.
The Government is committed to transparency as we leave the EU and to ensure business and citizens have the information available to prepare for all scenarios. Therefore, these pages will be regularly updated according to new information about any other agreements as they are progressed. For specific questions on individual international arrangements, please contact the relevant Government department as listed.
Further detail and background
What progress has been made so far?
The Government has successfully secured continuity in our treaty relationships with third countries across key sectors affected by exit, including:
- Concluding all agreements necessary to maintain the UK’s civil nuclear trade after EU Exit.
- Signing trade agreements with partners around the world.
- Preserving the UK’s status as one of the world’s leading aviation hubs, ensuring continuity arrangements are in place with third countries, including new bilateral agreements with the US and Canada.
- Delivering certainty for citizens by signing citizens’ rights agreements with the EEA EFTA states (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland, allowing UK, EEA EFTA and Swiss nationals living in each other’s countries to continue living their lives broadly as they do now in both a deal or no deal scenario.
- Providing continuity with key country partners such as the US, with whom we have already agreed
- A US-UK ‘Covered Agreement’, which, like the US-EU agreement, will reduce burdens on insurers and reinsurers.
- Continued protection for Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey exports.
- A mutual recognition agreement, covering sectors with UK exports to the US worth an estimated £8.9 billion- more than a fifth of total UK goods exports to the US.
What are international agreements?
Through membership of the EU, the UK is covered by a large number of EU international agreements. These international agreements cover political, security, economic and other forms of collaboration and cooperation with over 100 third countries and cover a range of sectors for example aviation, trade, nuclear, environmental, fisheries and political agreements.
What are Memoranda of Understanding?
Agreements referred to as Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) do not usually create legally binding obligations under international law and are used where it is considered preferable to avoid the formalities of a treaty - for example, where there are detailed provisions which change frequently or the matters dealt with are essentially of a technical or administrative character. Like a treaty, an MoU can have a variety of names and can be in the form of an exchange of notes or a single document. The key distinction from treaties is that they do not contain legally binding language[footnote 2]. In some cases, MoUs have been used as temporary mechanisms to provide for bilateral continuity whilst formal treaties are in the final stages of negotiation or ratification.
What will happen to existing international agreements on leaving the EU?
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it will no longer be covered by EU-only international agreements, or by “mixed” bilateral agreements between the EU and its Member States on one hand, and a third party on the other, unless the UK and the third party agree to transition the agreement, or agree to other measures to ensure the continuity of the effect(s) of the agreement.
The UK will remain a party to most mixed multilateral agreements after exit day, where it is already a party in its own right. A mixed agreement covers areas of both Union and Member State competence and is an agreement to which both the EU and some, or all, of its Member States are party. A mixed agreement can be multilateral (eg the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation, and climate change agreements) or bilateral (eg some aviation and free trade agreements). Whether or not the UK will remain a party to mixed agreements after exit day will depend on the terms and structure of the agreement in question.
The UK is also working to amend any UK-third country agreements that are affected by exit. In addition, the UK is working with international partners to deliver continuity across a range of wider arrangements such as regulatory agreements, MoUs and data adequacy decisions.
How has Government approached this issue?
To identify relevant agreements, we have worked with international partners to understand which agreements of mutual benefit will be impacted by exit. Government has been working with international partners to put in place successor agreements or to take steps to accede to multilateral agreements to deliver continuity where relevant in order to provide certainty and to prevent disruption for businesses and citizens. These successor arrangements would come into effect after exit from the EU, on day one or shortly thereafter in a ‘no deal’ scenario, or after the end of an Implementation Period if agreed. In delivering this work, we have been open and transparent with the EU, and will continue to be so, in line with our duties as a Member State.
The Government has also engaged with the Devolved Administrations (DAs) on the overall policy approach of ensuring continuity, as well as on specific agreements that touch on areas of devolved competence. Individual departments have worked with the DAs to ensure that they have been involved in this process, and have supported implementation planning and operational readiness.
How many international agreements is the Government transitioning?
Government has been working with non-EU countries to identify those agreements that need action, and where there is mutual interest to transition the agreements to prepare for our exit from the EU.
Of these agreements, the majority will either be in place (subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and final administrative steps where required) or discussions are ongoing for delivery for a no deal scenario. . For many of the agreements that will not be in place on exit, there are mitigations that can be used to ensure continuity of the effect(s) of the agreements. The status of specific agreements is available through the links below.
The EU Treaty Database carries a full list of all international agreements that the UK is covered by via membership of the EU. Whilst there are over 1,000 agreements listed, many do not need action.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Many of the agreements listed:
- Are not relevant to the UK, e.g. agreements relating to the use of the Euro or the accession of new EU Member States;
- Relate to cooperation with other countries where we can cooperate without needing a treaty at all, we can cooperate to build bilateral relationships through dialogues and Memoranda of Understanding;
- Have been superseded, for example the EU Treaty database lists three agreements with Australia that concern trade in wine, two of which have been superseded by the other;
- In some instances, the UK signed the agreement as a member in its own right and so the UK’s membership will continue. This is the case for at least 120 mixed multilateral agreements such as the Paris Climate Change agreement.
- The UK does not have any commercial interest in transitioning some agreements, for example, the Fisheries Partnership Agreement with the Republic of Kiribati.
- And some of our replacement agreements incorporate several EU-third country treaties. E.g. the Swiss trade agreement combines eight original agreements into a single agreement through an ‘umbrella instrument’.
Parliamentary scrutiny of International Agreements
Once signed by the UK and relevant treaty partners, s, where necessary, the agreements will be laid before Parliament for domestic scrutiny ahead of ratification and before the treaty enters into force
The Government’s intention is to lay treaties subject to ratification before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance (CRaG) Act 2010 in the normal way. Should it not be possible to conclude parliamentary scrutiny processes by exit day, we will consider other means through which we can provide business and stakeholders with continuity and certainty from day one.
One such mechanism which may be available for certain agreements is provisional application, where the UK and the third country agree to apply a treaty “provisionally” from exit day for a period of time until the full domestic processes have completed and the treaty enters into force. In exceptional cases it may be justified for the Government to use its powers under Section 22 of the CRaG and ratify a treaty without parliamentary scrutiny, thus ensuring continuity from exit day.
Territorial application - UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories
The UK’s Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories have relationships with the EU. These relationships mean that the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories are part of the EU for certain purposes, and have the benefit of some of its international agreements. Generally speaking, EU law applies to Gibraltar to the same extent as it applies to the UK. However, Gibraltar is not part of the EU customs union and rules on free movement of goods do not apply there.
The Crown Dependencies participate in the EU to a limited extent (including customs rules and trade in agricultural products) due to Protocol 3 of the UK’s accession to the EU. The UK Government has adopted a general policy of continuity of effect in relation to international agreements - this policy also applies to the territorial scope of agreements. As a result, if an EU agreement is applied in a Crown Dependency or Overseas Territory, it is in general the UK Government’s policy, agreed by the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, that the transitioned continuity agreement should apply to the same territories to the same extent.
UK Government Departments are engaging, and will continue to engage, with officials in the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories with respect to their participation in the UK’s international agreements, in accordance with relevant constitutional obligations and conventions.
Specific agreements with the EFTA states and Turkey
It is not the Government’s intention to transition all agreements in their entirety. This includes the EEA Agreement, the EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement and the Ankara Agreement.
The EEA EFTA States (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) participate in the EU Single Market through their membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA Agreement is the primary basis for the UK’s current cooperation with these countries in a number of important areas, including on trade and citizens’ rights. In the absence of any further action, the EEA Agreement will no longer operate in respect of the UK when we leave the EU, including in a no deal scenario. However, if the UK leaves with a deal, the EU has agreed that it will notify treaty partners and third countries that the UK is treated as an EU Member State for the purposes of its international agreements for the duration of any Implementation Period. This includes the EEA Agreement. Once any Implementation Period ends, new arrangements to facilitate the UK-EEA EFTA relationship will be brought into effect.
The UK and the EEA EFTA states have reached an agreement, which will mean that in a ‘no deal’ scenario UK and EEA EFTA nationals living in each others’ countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today. This agreement was signed on 2nd April 2019. The Government has also published guidance on how the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be open to EEA EFTA nationals, will work after exit day. The trade arrangements we have put in place with these countries for a ‘no deal’ scenario are outlined in the sector-specific guidance.
EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement
Through the UK’s membership of the EU, we are party to the EU-Swiss Free Movement of Persons Agreement. Once the UK leaves the EU this agreement will no longer apply to the UK.
The UK and Switzerland have signed an agreement which will mean that in a no deal scenario UK and Swiss nationals living in each others’ countries before exit day will be able to continue living their lives broadly as they do today. This agreement has now completed Parliamentary scrutiny. The Government has also published guidance on how the EU Settlement Scheme, which will be open to Swiss nationals, will work after exit day.
The UK and Switzerland have also signed a transitional migration agreement, which would apply in a no-deal scenario with the EU. The agreement will allow people from the UK and Switzerland to move to work in each other’s countries without additional requirements, such as skill level or economic interest, until December 2020. It will provisionally apply from exit day.
The UK and Switzerland have signed a social security agreement, which will come into effect if the UK does not reach an agreement with the EU. It provides for the social security coordination rights (which includes reciprocal healthcare) of UK and Swiss nationals and EU citizens who move to, travel to or work in the UK or Switzerland to continue to be protected for a transitional period between exit day and the end of December 2020. This will ensure social security cover after exit day in a no deal scenario
The trade arrangements we have put in place with Switzerland for a ‘no deal’ scenario are outlined in the sector-specific guidance.
Agreement creating an Association between the Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (Ankara Agreement)
Turkey’s relationship with the EU is largely governed by the Agreement creating an Association between the Republic of Turkey and the European Economic Community (also referred to as the “Ankara Agreement”) and its additional protocols and council decisions. The trade elements of our relationship with Turkey are described in the guidance.
Turkish nationals enjoy particular rights derived from the Ankara Agreement. Following exit from the EU, the UK’s obligation to this agreement falls away in a no deal scenario. However, as a transitional arrangement, the UK will seek to replicate the effect of the ECAA arrangements for the resident Turkish population. This will allow resident ECAA workers and ECAA business persons and their family members to apply for further leave with similar eligibility requirements as they have now, and apply to settle in the UK. We have not yet entered into any commitments in respect of Turkish nationals arriving after the UK’s departure in a no deal situation.
MoU between the UK and Iceland on Transitional Migration
The UK and Iceland have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding on transitional migration to ensure UK and Icelandic nationals will be able to continue to move to each other’s countries in all Brexit scenarios. This MoU was signed on 4 November. Further information can be found here.