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EXPLAINED: Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal with the EU

Despite repeatedly warning of the extreme likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, Boris Johnson signed a trade agreement with the EU on 24 December.

But what exactly does the agreement mean for the UK’s future relationship with the EU and for University of Edinburgh students? 

The Student takes a closer look at the agreement. 

An Overview of the ‘UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement’ 

At its essence, the agreement ensures free trade in goods between the UK and the EU.

From 1 January 2021, the UK will be listed as a ‘third country’ and so outside the EU’s single market and customs union. 

UK goods imported into the EU will not be subject to any additional costs – zero tariffs and zero quotas – as will EU goods imported into the UK. 

Nevertheless, the agreement doesn’t guarantee frictionless trade. UK businesses will need to fill in extra paperwork and face extra custom checks on goods exported to the EU. 

During negotiations, phrases such as “governance” and “level playing field” were used often to describe the UK’s ability to set its own standards independent of the EU. 

The agreement does allow the UK to set its own standards with regards to areas such as environmental standards. 

But, if the UK strays too far from corresponding EU standards, access to the European market could be restricted and tariffs might be imposed. 

A so-called “rebalancing mechanism” can be invoked if either side feels that the other has ranged too far and that their businesses are at a disadvantage. 

Crucially the “rebalancing mechanism” will not be subject to EU law and any invoking of the mechanism will happen outside of the European Court of Justice. 

Additionally, the European Court of Justice and EU law will cease to have any power or jurisdiction in the UK. 

What does the agreement mean for University of Edinburgh students? 

Significantly the agreement ends the UK’s participation in the EU’s Erasmus scheme, meaning that British students will no longer be able to study abroad under the scheme. 

Amidst widespread outcry against the decision, the government has pledged £100 million towards its new replacement “Turing scheme”. 

UK researchers will still be able to access the EU’s Horizon Europe research fund, worth over £80 billion. 

The UK will have to pay an association fee to access the fund and will still lose access to the European Innovation Council part of the Horizon fund, which provides funding to emerging technologies and start-ups. 

With the exception of all students that started their degrees before the 2021-22 academic year, the University of Edinburgh will now charge EU students international fees and many European universities are now expected to charge UK students international fees. 

Under the EU settlement scheme, any EU nationals living in the UK on or before 31 December can secure their right to residency and will continue to be able to study, work and access benefits and services in Britain.

Any EU students that intend on arriving in the UK to study after 31 December will have to apply for a student visa under the new points-based immigration system. 

EU nationals can only apply for student visa if they: 

  • Have already been offered a place on a course 
  • Can speak, read, write and understand English 
  • Have enough money to support themselves and pay for their course 

If successful in obtaining a student visa, they will have the right to remain in the UK after they have finished their degree for up to two years, or three years if a PhD graduate.

What does the agreement mean for travelling to the EU on holiday?

The agreement ensures that UK nationals can still travel to the EU but only for up to 90 days. 

After 90 days, UK nationals will have to apply for visas to be able to remain in EU countries. 

In order to work or carry out business in EU countries after 1 January 2021, UK nationals will need to have a work visa or a work permit. 

UK driving licences will still be accepted and recognised in EU countries but in EU countries such as Germany, Greece, Spain and Italy, UK drivers will additionally need an international driving permit. 

Under the agreement, UK nationals holidaying in the EU will still be entitled to reciprocal healthcare. 

UK Global Health Insurance Cards will replace European Health Insurance Cards and will cover chronic or existing illnesses, routine maternity care and emergency care. 

What does the agreement mean for the UK fishing industry?

In the weeks before the agreement was struck and finalised, much was spoken of fisheries and the disagreements between the two sides about UK waters and fish. 

From 1 January 2021, EU fishing fleets will have access to UK waters but only for a five and a half-year period. 

After that, annual negotiations will dictate access. 

During this five and a half-year transition period, the fish from UK waters that EU fleets are able to sell on will be reduced by one quarter and British fishing quotas will be increased by the same amount. 

What about areas that the agreement does not cover? 

Financial services – the economic services provided by the finance industry that includes banks and credit unions – are not covered under the agreement. 

It remains unclear if the UK’s financial services will be able to access the EU’s single market from 1 January 2021 and a deal that covers the financial services, the UK’s largest services export, is yet to be reached. 

Under the deal for the financial services, the EU could either grant total “equivalence” to the UK and its financial companies, securing access to the single market. 

Alternatively, the EU could deny unilateral access to the single market and leave financial companies to seek permissions from individual member states. 

Image: Public Domain Dedication

By Lucy Saddler

News Editor.