Man with a hat with EU stars on it in London

Man with a hat with EU stars on it in London, © Picture Alliance / ZUMA Press

13.10.2017 - Article

Brexit – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s withdrawal from the EU

Following its referendum of 23 June 2016, the UK officially triggered its withdrawal from the EU on 29 March 2017. In accordance with the EU Treaty, the UK’s membership ends automatically on 29 March 2019, if no withdrawal agreement enters into force prior to this deadline. The European Council may grant an extension to the deadline in consultation with the UK only by unanimous agreement.

Brexit negotiations between the European Commission and the UK

The European Council, meeting in an EU27 format (without the UK), set the political parameters for the Brexit negotiations on 29 April 2017. The negotiations are being conducted by the European Commission under the political control of the member states and with Michel Barnier as chief negotiator. The rounds of talks are scheduled to be held on a monthly Basis.

First phase: key issues of withdrawal

The negotiation process is divided into two phases. The focus of the first phase is on key aspects of Brexit that must be clarified by 2019. These include the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, as well as the rights of UK citizens living in the member states of the EU27. Another issue are the UK’s financial obligations to the EU, as well as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, whose openness is an important achievement of the peace process.

David Davis, British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, in Brussels in June 2017 nhalt
David Davis, British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and Michel Barnier, the European Commissions's chief negotiator, in Brussels in June 2017© picture alliance / ZUMA Press

Second phase: future relations between the EU and the UK

As soon as the European Council has deemed that sufficient progress has been made on the key aspects of Brexit, the Commission and the UK may then also hold parallel talks on future relations between the EU and the UK. The European Council must adjust the parameters of the negotiations, which have only applied to the first phase so far, for this second phase.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel gave a statement on 30 March 2017 on the EU’s priorities in the negotiations with the UK: “The most important condition in the Brexit negotiations is that they must protect the interests of the citizens of the 27 remaining member states, the member states’ cohesion as well as economic, social and political interests, and the interests of the EU institutions. There will be no British rebate on any of that.”

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier© FFO

What role is the Federal Foreign Office playing?

As the lead ministry, the Federal Foreign Office is tasked with ensuring that German interests and objectives are taken into consideration by the EU in the Brexit negotiations. A common German position is coordinated within the Federal Government to this end and advocated in Brussels.

Moreover, the Federal Government established a Cabinet Committee on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on 22 November 2016 and is engaged in a close and regular dialogue with the German Bundestag, Bundesrat, cities and municipalities. Many discussions are being held with representatives of affected Germans in the UK, as well as with business representatives and representatives from science organisations. This ensures that all German and European concerns are taken into account during the negotiations.

Which objectives is the Federal Government pursuing?

The Federal Government and the EU as a whole are seeking a fair agreement with the UK that regulates the disentanglement in as smooth a way as possible and which limits the damage that will inevitably be caused by Brexit. One of the Federal Government’s priorities for the negotiations is to safeguard the interests of German citizens. Another focus is on averting any damage that Brexit could cause to the European Union at large. This aspect is important particularly for businesses, as well as for transnational science and research.

The Federal Government has an interest in maintaining a close partnership between the EU and the UK in the future. However, it is important to emphasise that the advantages of EU membership cannot be enjoyed without the obligations it entails. It was with this in mind that the heads of state and government of the EU27 made it clear in their statement of 29 June 2016, shortly after the UK referendum, that future relations must be characterised by a balance between rights and obligations. The UK’s closeness to the internal market will depend on the extent to which the UK continues to abide by the European Union’s rules.

Find out more:

Letter of notification of 29 March 2017 from Prime Minister May:


European Council Guidelines (Art. 50) of April 2017:


Negotiating Mandate of the Council of 22 May 2017:


Information on the Federal Government's Website:


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