Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty lays out that a two year period may be used to define the an agreement for withdrawal.

This has ended up defining a period during which the future relationship will be defined. But was the original intention to define the future relationship in this initial Article 50 period?

3 Answers 3


Not the entirety of the future relationship, but the nature of the relationship on leaving is to be planned for during the negotiation stage:

the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.

Naturally the nature of the future relationship will have great bearing on the negotiations surrounding an agreement on the arrangements for withdrawal. To take three possible situations: A country that wishes to leave the EU, but remain in the EEA and Schengen area will have a very different arrangements from one that has become hostile and wishes to side with a military enemy of the EU (imagine a country that wants to become part of a military bloc that seeks to invade EU states). Another situation is one in which a country was being forced to leave the EU: a constructive dismissal in which the EU has made it practically impossible for the country to remain.

Different situations calling for very different arrangements. The negotiators need to know something of how Britain will relate to the EU when drawing up the agreement.


James K quoted the relevant part of the treaty but the main conclusion that can be drawn from the text is that the withdrawal agreement provided for by article 50 was NOT intended to cover the future relationship. That's exactly what “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union” means. “Taking into account“ explicitly implies that that which you should take into account is not part of the agreement in question and does not, in fact, represent a strong commitment to do anything specific.

  • But it does imply a relationship between the future relationship and the terms of the "withdrawal." The treaty does not say anything about the state of the framework for the future relationship; it could be fully formed, having been settled as a precondition to the beginning of withdrawal negotiations, or it could be amorphous and vague to the point of nonexistence, for example if it proved impossible to reach common ground on any question.
    – phoog
    Nov 19, 2018 at 4:10
  • @phoog Not really, when the wording is so weak and the only concrete and unambiguous implication is that it is not intended to be part of the agreement to be agreed within the two-year period, it's difficult to see how it could be intended to be settled and a precondition. Incidentally, "framework” (or the equivalent in other languages) is another very weak word in this context. Negotiators are merely supposed to take into account the “framework” as opposed to a fully formed agreement about this relationship.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 19, 2018 at 6:02
  • I don't think it's needed to reach this conclusion but the fact that trade agreements take a lot more than two years to negotiate also supports this interpretation.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 19, 2018 at 6:03

Some aspects of the future relationship are defined in the Withdrawal Agreement, such as the rights of citizens. For example if they are able to obtain permanent residence of citizenship on an accelerated basis then those rights will continue past the implementation period.

Another aspect of the future relationship that is defined by the Withdrawal Agreement is the "backstop" for the Irish border, which can continue indefinitely. It could even become permanent, should a future government decide they do not wish to withdraw from it. In any case, it is legally binding.

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