The General Affairs Council (GAC) is in charge of coordinating the preparations for European Council meetings. GAC is mainly made up of the European Affairs Ministers, or Foreign Affairs Ministers, from all EU countries. In the Brexit negotiations, GAC is responsible for adopting negotiating directives for the European Commission. Minster of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee TD, represents Ireland at GAC.
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on Spain’s southern coast, sometimes referred to as ‘The Rock’ due to the 426m-high Rock of Gibraltar which dominates the peninsula’s landscape. Gibraltar is part of the EU Single Market, but not the EU Customs Union or the Schengen zone. 96 per cent of Gibraltar’s population voted Remain, the highest percentage of any British territory. The EU has given Spain a special negotiating position in Brexit negotiations, given the level of interdependence between Gibraltar and the surrounding communities in Southern Spain. EU Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has compared negotiations on Gibraltar to negotiations on the Northern Ireland border, stating “each of these issues is important” and “agreement on them is necessary prior to us adopting a withdrawal agreement”.
Good Friday Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast Agreement, was agreed on 10 April 1998 after multi-party negotiations and is regarded as a cornerstone of the peace process in Northern Ireland. It established a commitment “to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between these [Ireland and Great Britain] islands”. The Irish government, the EU, and the UK government have all committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in the Brexit negotiations.
Details of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ were first published by the UK government the day after Article 50 was triggered, 30 March 2017. The Bill which was often referred to as the Withdrawal Bill was debated in UK Parliament under its formal title of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. After, a number of high-profile debates and amendments to the Bill, it received royal assent on 26 June 2018 after agreement was finally reached by both the House of Commons and House of Lords on the text. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 effectively it seeks to copy EU law into UK law, meaning that after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, all EU laws will remain in force as UK law, unless these laws are amended or repealed by the UK Parliament.
The case of Greenland’s withdrawal from the European Communities is sometimes cited as an example of how complex the UK’s withdrawal negotiations may be. Greenland, as part of Denmark, joined the European Communities at the same time as both Ireland and the UK on 1 January 1973, despite voting against membership in the 1972 Danish referendum on the matter. A decade later, and following the establishment of the Greenland Home Rule Arrangement in 1979, Greenland voted to leave the European Communities in 1982. Denmark resultantly notified the Council of the EU of Greenland’s decision to leave the European Communities, suggesting that the Communities’ rules ‘cease to apply’ to Greenland. The withdrawal treaty, just seven pages in length, took three years to negotiate.
Dominic Grieve is a UK Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and former Attorney General. In December 2017, the House of Commons voted to accept an amendment proposed by Dominic Grieve to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill which would give the UK Parliament a meaningful vote; a legal guarantee to approve any withdrawal deal. The amendment went through various alterations in both the House of Lords and House of Commons, which, following negotiations with the UK government, resulted with Mr Grieve withdrawing his own amendment and another House of Lords amendment on a ‘meaningful vote’ was rejected by MPs: 324 to 298. The Government has accepted that MPs will have a vote on whether or not to approve any withdrawal deal reached between the EU and UK, however there is debate over the process which would occur if Parliament rejects the deal or in the event no deal is reached.
The European Council, the leaders of the EU countries, agree guidelines for the Brexit negotiations at European Council Summits. These guidelines are used to set the priorities of the EU in the negotiations and outline the EU’s position on a range of matters discussed in the Brexit negotiations.