Phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations – the EU’s approach

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Formal negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK will begin once the UK has left the EU.   This blog looks at the EU’s preparations for negotiating the future relationship with the UK and highlights the challenge for Member States in carrying their unified approach into the second phase of negotiations.

Revised Political Declaration

In October 2019, alongside the new Withdrawal Agreement, the EU and UK Government announced a revised Political Declaration on the Future Relationship.

The Political Declaration sets out high level aspirations for the nature of the future UK-EU relationship. It includes:

  • a commitment to incorporate the UK’s ‘continued commitment to respect the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights’ into any future relationship
  • ambitions for a Free Trade Agreement; and details on the approach for goods, services, movement of people, transport, energy, fishing, global co-operation and level playing field provisions
  • joint ambitions for co-operation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence and
  • a joint desire for an overarching framework for governance including mechanisms for dialogue and strategic direction.

How the EU negotiates with third countries

When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer be a Member State and under EU law will be considered a “third country.”  The procedure for the EU negotiating an international agreement with a third country is set out in Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 218 is highlighted in the Political Declaration as the process by which the future relationship negotiations should be conducted.

Article 218 sets out the roles of the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the European Parliament during negotiations, and lays out the guidelines for the negotiation process including how negotiations are opened and concluded.

It also states that the European Parliament must be “immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure”.

In addition, Article 218 sets out that the Council “shall act by a qualified majority throughout the procedure”.  A qualified majority vote of the Council means that 72% of the 27 Member States (representing at least 65% of the total population of the 27-member states) need to vote in favour of the agreement, as explained in a SPICe blog from June 2019.

However Article 218 also states that the Council must act unanimously when the “agreement covers a field for which unanimity is required for the adoption of a Union act, as well as for association agreements”.

The Political Declaration suggests the framework of a future relationship could be based on an associated agreement.  If this is the case, the Council would have to unanimously approve the agreement reached.  It may be more challenging for the EU to maintain the unity displayed during the Article 50 negotiations, as individual Member States will look to protect their own economic interests in a future partnership with the UK.  A Member State who does not feel their interests have been protected could potentially vote against the agreement.

The Institute for Government have published a helpful explainer on Article 218.

Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom

On 22 October 2019, the European Commission announced that Michel Barnier would lead a new “Task Force for Relations with the UK” which will be in charge of the “future relationship negotiations with the UK”. This appointment allows for continuity as the negotiations move into the second phase.

Since the announcement, Michel Barnier has spoken of the main priorities for the EU. During a plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee on 30 October 2019, Michel Barnier said:

“the new partnership would be based on two main priorities: preserving peace in Ireland and protecting the integrity of the single market.”

On the integrity of the Single Market he said:

“The single market is a pillar of the European project; no agreement will ever be reached that puts the single market in danger”.

During a debate in the European Parliament, Michel Barnier also indicated that negotiations on a future relationship may take a number of years to conclude.

The UK Government elected in December 2019 have stated they intend to conclude negotiations with the EU by the end of 2020.

Other Key EU Players

 The European Commission and the European Council have both seen new Presidents appointed in 2019.   Before taking up their roles, both appointees spoke about the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Ursula Von Der Leyen succeeded Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President on 1 December 2019. In an   interviewgiven the week after her approval, she spoke of the need to maintain a good relationship with UK as it prepares to leave the EU, stating:

“It would be wrong to see Brexit only as the end of something. The way in which we carry out Brexit will determine our future relationship to our neighbour the United Kingdom. For both sides it is of the highest interest that there is an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships”.

Charles Michel succeeded Donald Tusk as President of the European Council on 1 December 2019.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, before taking up the role, he acknowledged the need for EU Member States to remain united during the negotiations on a future partnership, saying:

“There is a risk to be divided based on different economic situations in different countries. But if we use the same transparent way of working, it is the best guarantee to maintain unity”.


The EU Member States successfully maintained a unified position during the Article 50 negotiations.  It has been  suggested that the second phase of negotiations will be a greater test to their unity.

Whilst the EU Institutions will look to continue their unified approach, phase two of the Brexit negotiations may provide more of a challenge in ensuring continued EU27 unity as each Member State seeks to pursue its own economic interests.

SPICe has also published a blog setting out the immediate impact of the election result on the Brexit process and what some of the key issues might be when the negotiations on the future relationship begin.

SPICe will also publish a briefing early next year on the negotiation of the future UK-EU relationship.

Rebecca Bartlett, Researcher