At 11 pm on 31 January 2020, the UK is set to leave the EU. The transition period means that, for most purposes, relatively little will change immediately. However, the UK may lose the benefit of certain agreements that the EU has negotiated with third countries, notably on trade. In this briefing, we explain which territories are affected and how significant the impact is likely to be.
This article was amended on 4 February 2020 to reflect changes in the position regarding trade with Canada (see further below).
To roll over or not to roll over, that is the question
The Withdrawal Agreement requires the UK to honour its obligations under international agreements negotiated by the EU. However, the non-EU parties to those agreements may not be obliged to reciprocate. This means that, with effect from 1 February, Canada, for example, may raise tariffs on UK exports to the levels it normally applies to other WTO member countries – whereas exports from the remaining EU member states to Canada will continue to benefit from the preferential rates in the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement (CETA).
We have chosen Canada as the example here because the UK has not managed to persuade Canada to formally "roll over" its trade agreement with the EU into the transition period – although it has managed to negotiate "roll overs" with a significant number of other countries with which the EU also has trade agreements (see below). It is possible that Canada - and other countries where no formal "roll over" has been agreed - could still agree to a request from the EU to continue to treat the UK as if it were a Member State of the EU during the transition. But it is not clear that they could be obliged to do so.
EU-negotiated aviation agreements had the potential to raise similar issues but over the course of 2018-2019, the UK has managed to put bilateral agreements in place with almost all the countries where it stood to lose rights as a result of leaving the EU (these included the US, Canada, Switzerland and Norway).