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UK decision to leave the EU – Brexit

What is it all about?

On 23 June 2016, the UK held a referendum to answer the question: "Should the UK remain a member of the EU, or leave the EU?" By a margin of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent, the UK voted to leave the EU — commonly referred to as 'Brexit'.

On 17 October 2019, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker announced agreement to a revised Brexit deal, including the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relationship.

The revised Brexit deal was subsequently approved by the UK Parliament and received royal assent, and was approved by the European Parliament. A timeline of the process is available on the European Council website.

As a result, at 11pm GMT 31 January 2020 (10am AEDT 1 February), the UK formally ceased to be a member state of the EU.

What is the European Union?

The European Union (‘the EU’) is an economic and political partnership of 27 member countries (previously 28, including the UK). It is often described as a 'single market' facilitating the free movement of goods, services, capital and people — as if member states were a single country. The EU is also a customs union, with a common external tariff.

What happens now?

The UK and EU are now in a transition period until 31 December 2020. During this transition period the status quo prevails while the terms of the future EU-UK relationship are negotiated, including a free trade agreement. The UK remains in the EU single market. The current UK-EU trading arrangements continue, and the UK remains subject to EU rules and regulations.

What is the Australian Government doing to protect Australian interests?

During the transition period the status quo will prevail. So nothing will change for Australians living, travelling and doing business in the UK and EU.

The Australian Government is ensuring that any risks posed by Brexit after the transition period are addressed, while also identifying opportunities to enhance our relationships, including negotiating an Australia-UK FTA and Australia-EU free trade agreement.

The Australian Government is continuing to work to ensure the arrangements Australian business rely on in the UK and EU can continue after Brexit. After the transition period ends, we will have ensured:

  • mutual recognition of conformity assessments and certifications through a new Australia-UK agreement; exporters can be confident their goods comply with UK technical regulations before they depart Australia, saving businesses time and money.
  • Smooth commercial operations for Australian mining companies, through a  new Australia-UK Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.
  • Uninterrupted wine exports to the UK, under a new bilateral Wine Agreement; the UK will continue to accept Australian labelling standards and certification standards as well as winemaking practices.
  • Continued air services under a new MoU between Australia and the UK.
  • Continuity of equivalence decisions, providing certainty to businesses and consumers, under two Memoranda of Understanding (covering trade repositories and alternative investment funds) agreed by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

These arrangements are ready to enter into force once the transition period concludes.

Australia remains fully committed to the UK as an indispensable friend and ally. We also remain fully committed to our relationship with the EU, which is equally based on shared interests and common values.

What happens to business between the UK and EU?

During the transition period to 31 December 2020, the status quo will prevail. So nothing will change for those doing business between the UK and EU.

During the transition period, the UK remains in the EU single market and the current UK-EU trading arrangements continue subject to EU rules and regulations.

Guidance for business is available on the UK government’s website, which provides detailed information for businesses, individuals, and people living in both the UK and EU.

The UK has released tranches of information on changes beyond the transition period, including but not limited to the following:

Businesses and individuals can submit on-line specific queries on customs matters and procedures through the UK's Brexit Imports and Exports Helpline.

If your business has a commercial presence in an EU member state, check the guidance available on the European Commission’s website.

The European Commission released information to help businesses and individuals for Getting ready for the end of the transition period. The EU is periodically issuing sector-specific stakeholder preparedness notices including but not limited to:

You should visit the EU’s dedicated page regularly to keep abreast of newly revised readiness notices.

The EU and UK will continue to periodically issue guidance. Australians should consider signing up to email notification services provided by the UK government and by the European Commission to keep updated on issues directly relevant to them.

Australian businesses and individuals should consider whether it is appropriate to acquire legal advice and/or engage a migration agent, customs broker, freight forwarder or logistics provider.

What about Agricultural tariff-rate quotas?

The UK and EU intend to 'split' existing agriculture WTO tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) between the UK and EU-27 post-Brexit. This will include Australia's country specific quotas for beef, buffalo, sheep and goat meat, cheese, sugar and rice.

The proposed ‘splits’ will not come into effect until the end of the transition period. The Australian Government is engaging with the UK and the EU to ensure that the 'splits' do not leave Australian exporters at a commercial disadvantage. The Australian Government continues to consult closely with affected industries.

The Department of Agriculture is progressing potential changes to the administration of the EU TRQs for which Australia manages (beef, sheep and goat meat and dairy). More information on export quotas can be found on the Department of Agriculture website.

Will dual nationals with Australian and British passports still be able to live and work in the EU?

During the transition period, nothing will change for British passport-holders living, working, and travelling in the EU. This includes Australian dual nationals.

Future changes will depend upon the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU. Australian citizens should consider whether it is appropriate for them to acquire legal advice and/or engage a migration agent to advise on immigration matters.

Australians who plan to live in the UK can use the UK's visa and immigration tool to seek guidance on visa status and rights to stay. The UK Government's EU Exit website also includes specific up-to-date guidance including on travel, residency and employment. Citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. Such citizens can also view and prove their settled or pre-settled status online.

Are there any future implications for Australians seeking to live and work in the UK?

On 19 December 2018, the UK released details of its future skills-based immigration system, setting out the government's plans to introduce a new single immigration system, including ending free movement between the UK and EU. The UK released further details on 4 August 2020, including information on the requirements of the points-based system, who can apply, thresholds for skilled workers, and routes for students and graduates.

Australian ministers have impressed upon their UK counterparts the importance of ensuring any prospective visa changes do not negatively impact the strong economic and people-to-people links between Australia and the UK.

DFAT has also issued advice on Smartraveller for Australians wanting to travel to the UK.

Has the UK leaving the EU impacted Australia-EU trade negotiations?

No. Australia and the EU launched FTA negotiations on 18 June 2018. As a bloc, the EU is Australia's third largest trading partner. Australia is seeking an ambitious and comprehensive FTA with the EU to drive Australian exports, economic growth and job creation.


DFAT will continue to update this webpage as further information is provided by the UK government and the European Commission. The material on this website is a summary only of the subject matter covered and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government or DFAT. It is not intended to be, nor should it be relied on, as a substitute for legal or other professional advice. Users should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.

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