21 March 2018
1.Summary and context
On 19 March 2018 the UK and EU announced they had reached a political deal on a “large part” of the draft agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This covers the transition period, which both sides have now agreed will run from the day the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020.
A colour-coded document was published outlining areas that have been agreed, either wholly or in principle, and where discussions are ongoing. The document essentially translates the political agreement reached in December (and outlined in the UK-EU Joint Report) into a legal document.
Around three quarters of the issues have been agreed and several of the areas of direct relevance to Russell Group universities have been addressed e.g. EU citizens arriving during the transition period will maintain the same rights as those who arrived before Brexit; and the UK will maintain access to EU programmes until the end of 2020.
Although the document does not refer specifically to student finance, the principle behind the agreement for EU citizens is that their rights will not change during the transition period. We therefore hope the Government will clarify that EU students will benefit from the same fees and funding regime as currently if starting a course before the transition period ends.
Issues concerning Ireland and Northern Ireland are the key areas that remain to be resolved, although there is an explicit commitment to continued cooperation on HE.
2.1 Free movement of people will essentially remain intact during the transition period and EU citizens arriving in the UK during this time will enjoy the same rights and guarantees as those who arrive before Brexit. The same will apply to UK citizens living in other EU countries.
2.2 The document confirms that a person’s rights do not change even if their status changes, for example from student to worker, or if a dependent family member later finds employment (Article 16). It re-affirms the agreement from December that “once acquired, the right of permanent residence shall be lost only through absence from the host State for a period exceeding five consecutive years” (Article 14).
2.3 It confirms the deadline for submitting an application for a residency document (i.e. the “settled status” document) shall be no less than six months from the end of the transition period. A certificate of application for the document must be issued immediately. If there are any technical problems that prevent the host State either from registering the application or from issuing the certificate of application, the deadline for submitting the residence document will be automatically extended by a year (Article 17). This is helpful and in line with calls from the Russell Group that if the Government cannot demonstrate effective processing of applications there must be flexibility to extend the grace period for applications.
2.4 The document confirms that the application forms must be “short, simple, user friendly” and the administrative procedure for applications must be “smooth, transparent and simple and that “any unnecessary administrative burdens are avoided”.
2.5 Although the document does not make reference to student finance specifically, because EU citizens’ rights will not change during the transition period, we hope the UK Government will clarify that EU students starting courses at UK universities during the transition period will benefit from the same fees and funding regime as currently.
3. Programme access
3.1Article 131 of the agreement confirms UK participation in programmes financed by the current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) until 31 December 2020. This includes Horizon 20202 and Erasmus+.
3.2Article 6 states that the UK will lose the right to nominate, appoint or elect “members of the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union” and we can also no longer participate in the decision-making and the attendance in the meetings of the institutions. However, article 131 allows a derogation to this (our emphasis):
The representatives or experts of the United Kingdom, or experts designated by the United Kingdom, may, upon invitation and on a case-by-case basis, exceptionally attend, without voting rights, meetings of the committees that assist the European Commission in the implementation and the management of the programmes.
3.3This could include Horizon 2020 programme committees, for example, but we would have to be invited to take part. It is not clear from the document whether it would be the European Commission or the Council who might invite UK experts to be involved – we will endeavour to find out what the process will be and advocate for UK participation in relevant Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ committees as appropriate.
4. Ireland and Northern Ireland
4.1 Issues relating to Ireland and Northern Ireland remain to be agreed in full. The document as it stands confirms that in the absence of other solutions to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland will effectively stay in parts of the single market and the customs union. This is described by the EU as a “backstop position” and was already agreed in December. Indeed, David Davis said on 19 March that he agrees on the need to include a legal text detailing such a “backstop” solution, but he has suggested the UK will bring forward alternative solutions for avoiding a hard border.
4.2 There is agreement on some issues, such as the Common Travel Area (Article 2 of the Protocol on Ireland//Northern Ireland). In addition, Article 8 of the Protocol has been agreed and confirms that the necessary conditions for North-South cooperation on a number of areas, explicitly including higher education, will be maintained.
4.3 A round of talks focusing solely on Irish issues is due to begin next week to resolve outstanding questions.
5.1 Article 123 includes provisions for the UK to be consulted on new draft EU laws during the transition period if they refer directly to specific Member State authorities, procedures, or documents, “with a view to ensuring the proper implementation and application of that act by and in the United Kingdom”.
5.2 The UK will be able to negotiate, sign and ratify its own trade deals during the transition period, but any deals would not come into force until 2021 at the earliest. The UK will still be party to existing EU trade deals with other countries during the transition.
5.3 Article 76 confirms the UK is leaving Euratom and will have “sole responsibility” for ensuring materials covered by the Euratom Treaty are “handled in accordance with applicable international treaties and conventions”. Article 77 notes that the UK will “implement a safeguards regime applying a system offering equivalent effectiveness and coverage as that provided by the Community in the territory of the UK until the end of the transition period”.
5.4 Article 7 confirms the UK “shall cease to be entitled to access any network, any information system, and any database established on the basis of Union law”.
6. Next steps
6.1 The agreement still needs to be finalised and signed off by the EU27. EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said that if he receives a mandate from the European Council, the two sides could quickly begin negotiating on the outline of the future relationship – this would hopefully include an agreement on continued cooperation in the areas of science, innovation, education and culture.
6.2 Barnier has explained that the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be “finalised” during talks that will take place during the transition period, although he noted this is only a short amount of time, so the talks will be “intense and demanding”.