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The UK’s departure

The UK left the EU at 11pm on Friday 31 January 2020 and is no longer a member of the European Union. The UK-EU withdrawal agreement also came into force on that date, which provides for a transition period whereby the UK continues to be treated as if it were still an EU Member State for most purposes until 31 December 2020. There will be significant change and uncertainly at the end of the transitions period, and both parties will need to decide and agree on what their future relationship will look like.

The transition period (up to 31 December 2020)

During the transition period, most EU law continues to apply to the UK and allows for the UK's continued participation in the EU’s single market and customs union, and the four freedoms will continue to be applicable, meaning the UK will continue to follow all of the EU’s rules and its trading relationship will remain the same. Likewise, the UK continues to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and all the other EU supervisory and enforcement mechanisms continue to apply to the UK. However, with effect from the departure, the UK is no longer be a member of the EU’s political institutions, such as the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. 

The future relationship (post-31 December 2020)

The formal negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship began on 2 March 2020. The initial negotiations were based on some high level terms contained in a political declaration on the framework for the future relationship between the UK and EU, however the position of both parties has diverged somewhat and negotiations have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship are very likely to continue after the end of the transition period. It is clear that the status quo will not be maintained, as any future UK-EU relationship cannot replicate the UK's status as an EU member state. This means that divergences or regulatory gaps across a wide variety of sectors will inevitably arise for businesses and organisations with UK-related activities.

At the end of the transition period, it has been agreed that some limited provisions of the EU will continue to apply in the UK, such as in relation to the rights of EU citizens, separation matters, and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. The purpose of the Protocol is to set out the arrangements required to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, maintain the necessary conditions for continued north-south cooperation, and to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Its purpose is to provide clarity for trade arrangements on the island of Ireland.

If a free trade agreement cannot be agreed at the end of the transition period, both the UK and EU will be subject to customs duties, tariffs and taxes on goods travelling between the UK and EU.  The position in relation to services, a significant contributor to the UK’s GDP, is even less clear and will likely be significantly affected post-transition period. 
Aside from trade, many other aspects of the future UK – EU relationship will also need to be decided, for example:

  • Law enforcement, data sharing and security
  • Aviation standards and safety
  • Access to fishing waters
  • Supplies of electricity and gas
  • Licensing and regulation of medicines

Businesses and organisations will need to prepare for changes that will occur from 31 December 2020. We expect their attention to turn to adjusting supply chains, maintaining regulatory compliance, keeping costs under review and, where necessary, even relocating operations.

To help you prepare, our dedicated multi-disciplinary team can advise on the possible legal and regulatory implications of Brexit and offer expert-led guidance to both Irish and international clients. 

Our services & expertise 

Our lawyers offer significant international experience, travelling regularly to the UK, US and other international markets, advising local business and law firms around the legal implications of doing business in Ireland. Some of our team have qualified in the UK and have practised under the local legal system, and are therefore well positioned to be able to consider the key aspects of doing business after Brexit.

Outlined below is a list of the key areas which businesses, depending on the nature of their operations, should addressed as part of their preparation for Brexit. Under each heading, we have highlighted the main issues, opportunities and risks to be considered and may impact upon your business:


We will continue to monitor and update on developments in the countdown to Brexit and thereafter. Our publications on Brexit can be accessed here. To register for our Brexit Mailing list, please click here.

For more information or advice on what Brexit will mean for you and your business, contact a member of our Brexit team or your usual ByrneWallace LLP contact.