We don't know what the future relationship between the UK and the EU will be. It has been suggested that an Association Agreement might be appropriate because it is a fairly flexible kind of agreement and can include a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. But an Association Agreement also requires a degree of legislative approximation of the third country with the laws of the EU, and it isn't clear whether the UK Government would find this acceptable. This paper looks at the scope and contents of some existing Association Agreements.Jump to full report >>
Association Agreements create a framework for close economic and political co-operation between the EU and third countries. They can be very broad and varied in purpose, scope and content, with trade as one element. AAs include co-operation in areas of mutual interest, such as security and defence, the environment, science and research.
An AA could be combined with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). DCFTAs offer access to the Single Market in specific areas, based on regulatory and legislative approximation of the third party with the EU. The case law of the Court of Justice of the EU must also be taken into account.
AAs allow participation by the third state in several EU agencies and programmes.
The governance and institutional framework for AAs is in principle free for the parties to determine, but in general involves at least three levels of governance: high-level political (annual Summit), general oversight (Association Council at ministerial level) and day-to-day management (Association Committee). The DCFTAs have a specific Trade Committee.
Dispute settlement takes place on a political level and then an arbitral level.
The UK does not yet know what its relationship with the EU will be after Brexit, when it will be a third state in relation to the EU. In all Brexit scenarios the UK Government will want to negotiate a future relations agreement with the EU. This is true whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. These negotiations cannot begin until the UK has left the EU and is a ‘third country’.
A future relationship is likely to be based on some combination of an Association Agreement and a DCFTA.
The UK and the EU have already suggested that a future relations agreement might take the form of an AA. The Political Declaration on the framework for future EU-UK relations (agreed by the EU and UK in November 2018 as part of the withdrawal ‘package’) envisages “an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation”. But it is not clear whether the Government of Boris Johnson will seek an AA with the EU.
It takes on average around six-and-a-half years to negotiate and implement an AA, either fully or provisionally. Under the November 2018 Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period in which a future relations agreement would be negotiated is one year and five months if the UK leaves on 31 October with a deal (to 31 December 2020, extendable once by up to two years).
If the UK leaves without a withdrawal agreement, the negotiating period is not limited by any transition period, but negotiations could be more difficult politically. In any Brexit scenario the UK’s starting point as a recently departed Member State means it would have close legislative alignment, so a head start technically, if not politically.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-8645
Authors: Vaughne Miller; Dominic Webb; Sylvia de Mars