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Frequently Asked Questions

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the procedure for a Member State to withdraw from the European Union, if it should wish to do so. It was first introduced by the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.  Article 50 indicates that if any Member State decides to quit the European Union, it must notify the European Council and negotiate its withdrawal from the EU. There are two years to reach such an agreement – unless all Member States agree to extend it. Meanwhile, the exiting state cannot take part in EU internal discussions about its departure.

Article 50 only deals with the withdrawal of a Member State from the EU.  A political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship will accompany the Withdrawal Agreement, but the terms of the UK’s future relationship can only be negotiated once the UK leaves the EU and becomes a Third Country (i.e. a non-EU country) on 29 March 2019.


Michel Barnier is the EU’s Chief Negotiator. He leads the Taskforce on Article 50 Negotiations with the United Kingdom (also known as TF50), which was established by the European Commission to prepare and conduct the negotiations with the UK.

There is an organigram for the Taskforce which sets out its organisational structures.

The UK will leave the EU and become a Third Country (i.e. a non-EU country) on 29 March 2019.

The EU Treaties cease to apply to the United Kingdom from the date of entry into force of the agreement, or within 2 years of the notification of withdrawal, in case of no agreement. The European Council can decide to extend that period by unanimity. In the event of an agreement, the transitional arrangement agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement will apply and while formally a Third Country, EU law will continue to apply in the UK until 31 December 2020. This means, in general, that the status quo will continue for this period. During this period, the detailed negotiations on an EU-UK future relationship agreement, including on trade, will begin.


There is a two-year framework for the Article 50 negotiations and for agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement, starting from the day the UK triggered Article 50 (29 March 2017). This can only be extended if all members of the European Council unanimously agree to do so. Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement have now concluded.  On 25 November 2018, the European Council endorsed the Agreement and approved the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship.  The next step is ratification by the EU and the UK.  For the EU, the Council of the European Union must authorise the signature of the Withdrawal Agreement, before sending it to the European Parliament for its consent upon which the Council of the European Union can formally conclude the Withdrawal Agreement. The United Kingdom must ratify the Agreement according to its own constitutional arrangements.

The detailed negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship, including in areas such as trade will only begin once the UK has left the EU on 29 March 2019.

On 25 November 2018, the European Council endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship. 

The Withdrawal Agreement sets out the terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, ensuring that the withdrawal will happen in an orderly manner.

It provides for a period of transition in which all of us can prepare for the new relationship between the EU and the UK, once it has left the EU.

It provides for the rights of UK nationals currently resident in other EU Members States, and EU citizens resident in the UK.

It provides for the orderly winding down of current arrangements across the broad spectrum of EU cooperation, and sets out the financial settlement and governance structures for the withdrawal.

In relation to Irish priorities:

  • It protects the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process.
  • It translates the commitment - given by the UK and the EU to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland into a legal guarantee. Ireland hopes that solutions for avoiding a hard border can be found as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK.  However unless and until this is the case, the backstop is the insurance policy that guarantees that, whatever the circumstances, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
  • It underpins, in a dynamic way, continuing North South cooperation and the all-island economy.
  • It provides for the maintenance of the Common Travel Area, ensuring for British and Irish citizens that the arrangements that have meant that we can live, work and access services in each other’s countries will continue into the future.
  • It confirms that people in the North will continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens.

Ireland wants the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK, including on trade. This is in line with the European Council Guidelines from December 2017, which reaffirmed the EU’s desire to establish a close partnership with the UK. The Government will be firm in arguing that any future agreement must protect key sectors of the Irish economy given the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland and importance of our economic relationship with the UK.

The actual agreement on a future relationship can only be finalised and concluded once the UK has become a Third Country, after it leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. This is why a status quo transitional arrangement is so important.

As well as the important issues around trade, the EU-UK future relationship should also entail continued strong cooperation in a range of other areas such as combatting terrorism and international crime, research, fisheries, the mutual recognition of qualifications, data protection and civil aviation, to mention just a few.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is an integral part of the draft Withdrawal Agreement. It is drafted to give legal effect to the commitments and guarantees provided by the EU and UK in their Joint Report in December 2017 on avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, including North-South cooperation and individual rights. It also reflects the agreement reached on maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Both the EU and the UK have made firm commitments to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, including physical infrastructure or related checks and controls, as a result of Brexit.

Ireland hopes that solutions for avoiding a hard border can be found as part of the future relationship between the EU and the UK. However unless and until this is the case, the backstop is the insurance policy that guarantees that, whatever the circumstances, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

If a future relationship agreement delivering the desired outcome is not operable by 31 December 2020 – for whatever reason – the backstop will apply unless and until it is operable. As an alternative, the UK may, before July 2020, request an extension in the period of transition.

If the backstop is invoked:

  • there will be a single EU-UK customs territory;
  • to facilitate this, there will be ‘level playing field’ rules, ensuring fair competition in areas such as environment, state aid, and labour standards;
  • the Union’s Customs Code will apply in Northern Ireland so that Northern Ireland businesses will not face obstacles in accessing the Single Market for goods, including in the South;
  • the UK in respect of Northern Ireland will remain aligned to those rules of the Single Market that are indispensable to avoiding a hard border – for example legislation on goods, veterinary controls (SPS) etc.

This arrangement will apply unless and until it is superseded by alternative arrangements that ensure the same outcome.

Since the beginning of the Article 50 process, the EU’s mandate for the negotiations has included detailed language in relation to Ireland’s particular concerns and priorities, including on protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and maintaining the Common Travel Area.

The Taskforce on Article 50 negotiates with the UK on behalf of the EU27. The Tánaiste is in regular contact with its Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Irish officials in Brussels and Dublin are in regular, often daily, contact with the Taskforce. Michel Barnier has consistently emphasised the importance of the Irish issues and has visited Ireland, North and South.

In Brussels, Ireland participates actively in the Article 50 Working Party. The Article 50 Working Party was established in 2017 to assist the European Council and Committee of Permanent Representatives in all matters related to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The Working Group meets in EU27 format on a regular basis. Officials from Ireland’s Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels, which is Ireland’s largest diplomatic mission abroad, attend the Working Party and work closely with their European counterparts to ensure that Ireland’s concerns and objectives are understood by our fellow Member States and are reflected in the EU’s negotiating position.

The European Council, formed by the Heads of State or Government of the EU Member States, plays a significant role in the Article 50 process. Meeting in EU27 format, it defines the framework for the negotiations and sets out the EU's overall positions and principles through guidelines for the negotiations and through the Conclusions of its meetings. It also invited the Council to nominate the European Commission as the Union negotiator.

The European Council Guidelines (April 2017) set out the EU’s negotiating position for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the European Council Guidelines (March 2018) set out the EU’s negotiating position on the framework for the future relationship with the UK.

If no agreement is reached, the EU Treaties will simply cease to apply to the UK on 29 March 2019. The UK will no longer be subject to all of the EU’s agreements, and will no longer have access to the benefits of the Single Market and Customs Union, or to their legal and regulatory frameworks.

Ireland’s membership of the European Union will remain unchanged, including its membership of the Single Market and Customs Union.

The Government is working hard with the EU Taskforce and our EU partners to ensure that an agreement between the EU and the UK is reached.

No. Ireland remains fully committed to our membership of the EU and the Eurozone. The EU is a home which we have helped build.

EU membership remains central to the success of our open, competitive economy and has been the foundation for much of the social progress we have made over the last four decades. The Irish people have consistently endorsed our membership of the EU.

Membership of the European Union has brought great benefits to our country and remains profoundly in our interests. We value our access to the Single Market and the benefits our exporters derive from EU trade agreements with other countries.

While the EU will always face challenges, the Irish Government believes the best way to solve our collective problems is by working together.

More broadly, we value being part of a Union with other like-minded democracies who share our values and interests.

Since Ireland joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, life for Irish people has improved significantly. In particular, our membership of the Single Market has transformed our economy into one of the world’s most open, with a diverse range of trading partners. It has helped make us an attractive investment destination, while EU funding has been effectively applied to ensure a modern infrastructure and a very strong education system across the country. Ireland’s historically strong food sector is now a 21st century driver of growth, while innovation and research are at the core of our entrepreneurial society. Membership has transformed our links with other European countries; most prominently, our shared membership of the EU has been very important to the Northern Ireland peace process and to North-South co-operation, and has helped change the context of the Irish-British relationship.

The EU remains fundamental to our interests, to our security and prosperity, and to the wellbeing of the Irish people. Reflecting a continuing broad national consensus, the Government is committed to safeguarding and promoting Ireland’s place at the heart of Europe, as an active and constructive EU member state.

Our membership of the EU has had benefits across all aspects of life, improving our economy and increasing our voice on the global stage. You can read about these improvements and more on the European Commission website.

A debate is now underway across Europe on how best to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Influencing the future direction of Europe should always be a priority for Ireland and this is all the more important for us after Brexit.

Our starting point in this debate is to focus on the needs and concerns of our citizens. A series of successful regional Citizens' Dialogues, engagement with key stakeholders and other events have taken place across Ireland, culminating in a National Citizens' Dialogue on the Future of Europe at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on 9 May 2018.

We want you to get involved in this debate and would encourage you to visit our dedicated Future of Europe website, and explore our Get Involved section to learn how to make a contribution. In September the Government will publish a report on the Citizens' Dialogues, which will feed into a new national statement on Ireland in Europe. This will be Ireland's unique contribution to the wider European debate and to the Leaders' Agenda discussion at the EU Summit in Romania next May 2019.