Article by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission
On 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union. We lost a member of our family. It was a sad moment for us, for European citizens – and for many British citizens too.
However, we have always respected the sovereign decision of 52% of the British electorate, and now we hope to begin a new chapter in our relationship.
Emotions aside, 1 February proved to be a historic day, but also undramatic. This is largely due to the Withdrawal Agreement that we negotiated with the United Kingdom, which enabled us to ensure an ‘orderly Brexit’. An agreement that – at least for now – minimizes the impact on our citizens, businesses, public administrations – as well as on our international partners.
Under this agreement, the EU and the UK agreed on a transition period, at least until the end of 2020, during which the UK will continue to participate in the EU Customs Union and the EU Single Market, and EU law will apply, even though it is no longer a Member State. During this period, the United Kingdom will also continue to comply with the EU’s international agreements, as we have made clear in a note verbale to our global partners.
So, with the transition period in place, there is a degree of continuity. This was not easy given the scale of the task. On leaving the Union, the United Kingdom is automatically, mechanically and legally abandoning hundreds of international agreements concluded by the Union or on its behalf, for the benefit of its Member States, on subjects as different as trade, aviation, fisheries or civil nuclear cooperation.
We now need to build a new partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom. That work will begin in a few weeks, as soon as the 27 have approved the negotiating mandate proposed by the European Commission, which sets out our terms and ambitions for the closest possible partnership with a country that will remain our ally, our partner and our friend.
The EU and the United Kingdom are united by shared history, geography, culture, values and principles and a strong belief in rules-based multilateralism. Our future partnership will reflect these standard links and policies. We want to move beyond trade and continue to work together on security and defence, areas where the United Kingdom has expertise and assets that are put to good use as part of a joint effort. In a world of significant challenges and change, of turmoil and transition, we must consult and cooperate, both bilaterally and in major regional and global forums such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, NATO or the G20.
It may be a cliché, but the truth is that today’s global challenges – from climate change to cybercrime, terrorism or inequality – require collective responses. The more the UK can join forces with the EU, and with partners around the world, the better our chances of meeting these challenges effectively.
At the heart of the EU project is the idea that together we are stronger; that pooling our resources and initiatives is the best way to achieve common goals. The Brexit does not change this, and we will continue to pursue this project as 27.
Together, the 27 Member States continue to form a single market of 450 million citizens and over 20 million businesses.
Together we remain the world’s largest trading bloc.
Together, the 27 of us are still the world’s largest donor of development aid.
Our partners can be sure that we will stay true to an ambitious and outward-looking agenda – whether on trade and investment, climate and digital action, connectivity, security and counter-terrorism, human rights and democracy, or defence and foreign policy.
We will continue to deliver on our commitments. We will continue to comply with the agreements that bind us to our international partners, such as the trade agreement signed between the European Union and Peru, and we will continue to develop multilateral cooperation frameworks around the world.
The European Union will continue to be a reliable partner. A strong advocate of rules-based multilateralism, it will work with its partners to make the world a safer and fairer place.