UK decision to leave the EU – Brexit
What is it all about?
On 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom (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 European Union (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.
The UK and EU then entered a transition period until 31 December 2020. Existing UK-EU trading arrangements continued and the UK remained subject to EU rules and regulations, while the UK and EU negotiated the terms of their future relationship.
On 24 December 2020, the EU and UK reached an “agreement in principle” on the text of a new “Trade and Cooperation Agreement” to govern their relations after the end of the transition period. A timeline of the process is available on the European Council website.
As of 1 January 2021, the UK is no longer in the EU Single Market and Customs Union.
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 is the Australian Government doing to protect Australian interests?
The Australian Government is ensuring that any risks posed by Brexit 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. As of 1 January 2021, we have ensured:
- mutual recognition of conformity assessments and certifications through a new Australia-UK agreement; exporters across multiple sectors can continue testing and certifying their goods to 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 the current arrangements for labelling standards, certification standards and winemaking practices.
- Continued air services under a new MoU between Australia and the UK.
- Continuity of equivalence decisions, providing certainty to businesses and consumers, along with enhanced cooperation 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).
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?
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 1 January 2021, including but not limited to the following:
- Trading with the UK as an overseas exporter
- UK tariffs from 1 January 2021
- Get someone to deal with customs for you
- List of customs agents and fast parcel operators from 1 January 2021
- Exporting animals and animal products to the UK from 1 January 2021
- Import or move animals, animal products, high-risk food and feed into the UK from 1 January 2021.
- Trading and labelling organic food from 1 January 2021
- Labelling and marketing standards from 1 January 2021
- The GB-EU Border Operating Model
- Moving goods into, out of, or through Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021
- Declaring goods brought into Great Britain from the EU from 1 January 2021
- Trading CITES-listed specimens through UK ports and airports from 1 January 2021
- Changes to EU and international designs and trade mark protection from 1 January 2021
- Intellectual Property after 1 January 2021
- Recognition of professional qualifications
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. If your EU-based business exports to the UK, check the guidance available on the UK Government’s website.
The European Commission released information to help businesses and individuals including but not limited to:
- Consumer protection and passenger rights
- Customs, incl. preferential origin rules
- Data protection
- Food law
- Genetically-modified organisms
- Geographical indications
- Industrial products
- Medicinal products (human use, veterinary)
- Movements of live animals
- Post-trade financial services.
You should visit the EU’s dedicated page regularly to keep abreast of newly revised guidance.
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?
As of 1 January 2021, the UK and EU will 'split' existing agricultural WTO tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) between the UK and EU-27. This includes Australia's country specific quotas for beef, buffalo, sheep and goat meat, cheese, sugar and rice.
The Australian Government engaged with the UK and the EU intensively with a view to reaching agreement with both sides to amend the splits. As a result, the Australian Government reached agreement with the EU and in principle agreement with the UK on amended spilts, and will be working with both to ensure the new agreed arrangements are implemented in a timely manner.
As of 1 January 2021, the UK and EU's initial proposed ‘splits’ take effect and export quota arrangements will be managed on that basis. Further changes will be made in early 2021 to reflect the new agreed arrangements with the UK and the EU. The Australian Government continues to consult closely with affected industries and is working to ensure a smooth transition for Australian exporters.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) is making changes to the administration of the EU TRQs for which Australia manages (beef, sheepmeat, buffalo and cheese) to reflect the ‘split’ of TRQs. Find out more about export quotas
Will dual nationals with Australian and British passports still be able to live and work in the EU?
Guidance for individuals who hold UK citizenship (including dual nationals) is available on the UK government’s website, which provides detailed information for UK nationals on living and working in the EU.
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.
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.
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. More information is available from the UK’s centralised guidance on its new immigration system.
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 travel?
The UK Government has released guidance about crossing the UK border and visiting the UK from 1 January 2021. This includes information including but not limited to:
- passenger travel to the EU from the UK by air, rail or sea from 1 January 2021
- Travel identity documents for foreign nationals
- Visit and transit visas.
It is important to stay informed and be aware of any changes that might occur, so you can make your own decisions accordingly.
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.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mail: Brexit Enquiries, Europe and Latin America Division, DFAT, RG Casey Building, John McEwen Crescent, BARTON ACT 0221