The Withdrawal Agreement
The Cabinet met this week to discuss the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the political declaration on the future relationship. From an aviation perspective, the WA provides for a stand-still transition period (also known as the implementation period) until December 2020 and provides for a mechanism to extend the transition period. This means that while the UK will formally leave the EU on 29 March 2019, from then until the end of the transition period, practically nothing changes. This means that the UK continues to participate in EASA, remains a member of the Single Aviation Market and is part of the EU’s one-stop security arrangements (notwithstanding the UK’s More Stringent Measures).
The transition period allows for negotiations on the future relationship to take place (see elsewhere in this Brexit Update).
There are a number of third-country air services agreements that the UK is part of by virtue of being an EU member. In the WA, there is the principle included that we continue to be part of those until the end of the transition period. However, should one country object to that, the DfT has been working UK-bilateral agreements to replace the third-country air services agreements (e.g. with the US, Israel, etc.). The intention is that they can either come into force the moment the UK leaves the EU on 29 March or at the end of a transition period, meaning continuation of flights in any event.
The WA also makes provision for what happens in relation to Northern Ireland should the UK and the EU not be able to agree a future relationship. This “backstop” would not cover aviation, and should there be a need for the backstop to come into effect (i.e. a failure of the future relationship discussions to result in an agreement), the no-deal planning would come into force for aviation.
The Gibraltar Protocol
As part of the Withdrawal Agreement, a Gibraltar Protocol has been published as negotiated between the UK and Spanish Governments. It looks like this agreement will take away the risk that Gibraltar is used as a block during the negotiations on the future aviation relationship. Gibraltar will be part of the UK’s transition period with all EU aviation rules that currently apply there continuing to apply during transition. Any aviation-related decisions taken during the transition period shall only become applicable to Gibraltar from a date established by a Joint Committee, which will adopt these once the UK and Spain have reached an agreement on the use of the Gibraltar airport. That agreement is expected to be discussed as part of a wider series of UK-Spanish negotiations on a number of different topics (e.g. customs, tobacco, citizens’ rights, etc.) that will be concluded in a series of Memoranda of Understanding in the comings weeks and months.