Brexit: What you need to know about the UK leaving the EU (2024)

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Brexit: What you need to know about the UK leaving the EU (1)

After months of negotiations, the UK and European Union finally agreed a deal that will define their future relationship, which comes into effect at 23.00GMT on 31 December.

I thought the UK had already left the EU?

It has. The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and officially left the trading bloc - its nearest and biggest trading partner - on 31 January 2020.

However, both sides agreed to keep many things the same until 31 December 2020, to allow enough time to agree to the terms of a new trade deal.

It was a complex, sometimes bitter negotiation, but they finally agreed a deal on 24 December.

So what changes on 1 January?

The deal contains new rules for how the UK and EU will live, work and trade together.

While the UK was in the EU, companies could buy and sell goods across EU borders without paying taxes and there were no limits on the amount of things which could be traded.

Under the terms of the deal, that won't change on 1 January, but to be sure that neither side has an unfair advantage, both sides had to agree to some shared rules and standards on workers' rights, as well as many social and environmental regulations. You can read more detail on other aspects of the deal, including more on travel, fishing, and financial services, here.

Freedom to work and live between the UK and the EU also comes to an end, and in 2021, UK nationals will need a visa if they want to stay in the EU more than 90 days in a 180-day period.

Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU's rules in order to avoid a hardening of its border with the Republic of Ireland. This will mean however that new checks will be introduced on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Now that it's no longer in the EU, the UK is free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. Talks are being held with the US, Australia and New Zealand - countries that currently don't have free trade deals with the EU.

Image source, Reuters

Will there be disruption at the borders?

There may not be new taxes to pay at the border, but there will be new paperwork, and the potential for it to cause delays is a serious concern.

"This is the biggest imposition of red tape that businesses have had to deal with in 50 years," according to William Bain from the British Retail Consortium.

The UK says it will delay making most checks for six months, to allow people to get used to the new system, but the EU will be checking paperwork and carrying out checks from day one. So if businesses are not prepared, or do not fill in the new paperwork correctly, it could cause delays and backlogs at ports like Dover.

The government has known about this for years, and has made plans to divert trade to other ports around the country and has built lorry parks in Kent, to avoid gridlock on the roads.

It's difficult to predict what the scale of any disruption might be, but government minister Michael Gove has said that UK businesses should prepare for some "bumpy moments".

Is this finally the end of having to hear about Brexit?

Sadly, no. Decisions are still to be made on data sharing and on financial services, and the agreement on fishing only lasts five years.

Also while the UK and EU have agreed to some identical rules now, they don't have to be identical in the future, and if one side takes exception to the changes, they can trigger a dispute, which could ultimately lead to tariffs (charges on imports) being imposed on some goods in the future.

Expect the threat of disputes to be a new constant in UK-EU relations.

What Brexit words mean

The last few years have seen many words and phrases enter our lives. We haven't used them here, but politicians do use them. Here's what some of them mean:

Transition period: The 11-month period following the UK's exit from the EU (finishing at the end of 2020), during which time the UK has followed EU rules, to allow leaders to make a deal.

Free trade: Trade between two countries, where neither side charges taxes or duties on goods crossing borders.

Level playing field: A set of rules to ensure that one country, or group of countries, doesn't have an unfair advantage over another. This can involve areas such as workers' rights and environmental standards. Free trade agreements like the Brexit deal often include level playing field measures.

Tariff: A tax or duty to be paid on goods crossing borders.

Related Topics

  • Ireland–UK border
  • Boris Johnson
  • UK Parliament
  • European Union
  • Brexit

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  • What is the Brexit transition period?

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      1 July 2020

  • What trade deals has the UK done so far?

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      26 January

Brexit: What you need to know about the UK leaving the EU (2024)


What happens after UK leaves EU? ›

Following Brexit, EU law and the Court of Justice of the European Union no longer have primacy over British laws. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 retains relevant EU law as domestic law, which the UK can amend or repeal. The EU and its institutions developed gradually after their establishment.

What are the main reasons Britain voted to leave the EU? ›

Factors included sovereignty, immigration, the economy and anti-establishment politics, amongst various other influences. The result of the referendum was that 51.8% of the votes were in favour of leaving the European Union.

What are the consequences of Brexit for the UK? ›

The average Briton was nearly £2,000 worse off in 2023, while the average Londoner was nearly £3,400 worse off last year as a result of Brexit, the report reveals.* It also calculates that there are nearly two million fewer jobs overall in the UK due to Brexit – with almost 300,000 fewer jobs in the capital alone.

What will happen to EU citizens in the UK after Brexit? ›

EU citizens can stay in the UK as a visitor for up to six months. After this period, it will be necessary to have a work, study or family visa. The conditions and procedures differ for each different visa type.

Is Britain better after Brexit? ›

Research by the Centre for European Reform suggests the UK economy is 2.5% smaller than it would have been if Remain had won the referendum. Public finances fell by £26 billion a year. This amounts to £500 million a week and is growing.

What is the benefit of UK leaving EU? ›

Leaving the EU has meant that the UK has not had to contribute to the significant new liabilities arising from the EU's Covid response including, for the first time, the EU's borrowing of up to €750 billion between 2021–24.

Was Brexit a success or failure? ›

A new opinion poll has found that most British voters see leaving the EU as a huge failure for the country, especially around broken promises on NHS funding. A significant majority of British people believe the country's decision to leave the European Union has been bad for the UK.

What do Brits think of Brexit now? ›

Share of people who think Brexit was the right or wrong decision 2020-2024. As of May 2024, 55 percent of people in Great Britain thought that it was wrong to leave the European Union, compared with 31 percent who thought it was the right decision.

What percentage of England voted for Brexit? ›

The referendum resulted in 51.9% of the votes cast being in favour of leaving the EU, triggering calls to begin the process of the country's withdrawal from the EU commonly termed "Brexit". Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Can Britain rejoin the EU? ›

Process. Potential enlargement of the European Union is governed by Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty. If the UK applied to rejoin the EU, it would need to apply and have its application terms supported unanimously by the EU member states.

What happens to UK citizens after Brexit? ›

If you were lawfully resident in an EU country before 1 January 2021, your rights are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. You continue to have broadly the same rights to live, work, study and access benefits and services as you had before Brexit.

What happens to immigrants in UK after Brexit? ›

From 1 January 2021, free movement ended and EU citizens migrating to the UK are subject to more restrictive immigration rules, which are the same as those facing citizens from non-EU countries. Any person moving to the UK to live or work now requires a visa. ... Click to read more.

What happens when Britain leaves the EU? ›

What will happen after we leave the EU? The European Communities Act will be repealed on the day we leave the EU – meaning that the authority of EU law in the UK will end. We will convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law and then Parliament will be free to amend, repeal and improve any law it chooses.

Does the UK still follow EU law after Brexit? ›

However, with effect from 2024, no general principle of EU law is part of UK law. This change was made by the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 (REUL Act). As a result, UK courts are no longer able to apply general principles of EU law; they will instead have to apply UK principles of interpretation.

Which EU country has the most immigrants? ›

In 2022, there was an estimated 11 immigrants from non-EU countries per 1 000 residents in the EU. Relative to the size of the resident population, Malta recorded the highest rate of immigration from EU and non-EU countries in 2022 (66 immigrants per 1 000 residents), followed by Luxembourg (48) and Estonia (37).

Is the EU better off without the UK? ›

The UK was a key asset for the EU in the fields of foreign affairs and defence given that the UK was (with France) one of the EU's two major military powers, and had significant intelligence capabilities, soft power and a far reaching diplomatic network. Without the UK, EU foreign policy could be less influential.

Is it possible for the UK to rejoin the EU? ›

Process. Potential enlargement of the European Union is governed by Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty. If the UK applied to rejoin the EU, it would need to apply and have its application terms supported unanimously by the EU member states.

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