Impacts of Brexit within the mandate of the Ministry of Justice

The United Kingdom (UK) has notified its intention to withdraw from the European Union (EU), following the outcome of a referendum held in 2016. The UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019, which is the date of expiry of the two-year period for negotiating the terms of withdrawal under the Treaty on European Union.

EU law on European Parliament (EP) elections and on municipal elections in Member States will not apply to the UK after the withdrawal, regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without an agreement. If the withdrawal takes effect on 29 March 2019, the UK will not take part in the spring 2019 EP elections, and Finnish citizens residing in the UK will be automatically included in Finland’s electoral register for the elections and will receive a notice of right to vote (polling card). However, should the withdrawal date be significantly postponed through a unanimous decision of the EU Member States, it could mean that the UK will take part in the 2019 EP elections. After the UK leaves the EU, UK citizens residing in Finland will be third-country nationals under national legislation, and they will have the right to vote in Finnish local elections (municipal elections) if they have been domiciled in Finland for two years. Information on the elections is available on the elections website of the Ministry of Justice at vaalit.fi.

Withdrawal agreement and its impacts

The EU and the UK Government reached a mutual understanding on the content of a withdrawal agreement in late November 2018. Both the European Parliament and the UK Parliament must approve the withdrawal agreement before it can enter into force. The draft withdrawal agreement and other negotiation documents are available on the European Commission website.

If the withdrawal agreement enters into force on 30 March 2019 as planned, nearly all provisions of EU law will continue to apply to the UK until at least the end of 2020 under the transition period provisions in the withdrawal agreement. In the field of activity of the Ministry of Justice, this would mean that EU judicial cooperation on civil and criminal matters continue in their current form during the transition period. The current rules would apply to judicial processes under EU law until the end of the transition period, while any such processes that were pending at the end of the transition period would be completed according to the specific rules spelled out in the withdrawal agreement. Exchange of personal data between the EU and the UK would continue under current rules until the end of the transition period.

The EU and the UK plan to start negotiations immediately after the withdrawal date to reach agreements on certain matters that would apply after the transition period. One of these matters is the future cooperation on criminal matters. In certain situations, cooperation can continue after the transition period even without a specific EU-UK agreement, by virtue of existing international treaties.

Impacts of a no-deal withdrawal and preparing for them

Should the withdrawal agreement not enter into force on 30 March 2019, the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Judicial cooperation

In a no-deal situation, the UK would no longer participate in the EU’s judicial cooperation, and matters would be dealt with under the provisions of international treaties. In some cases, this could have a practical impact directly after the withdrawal date, for example, when the authorities deal with UK-related family law matters.

EU law would no longer apply to the service of documents and taking of evidence between the UK and the remaining EU Member States or to cooperation in family law matters. As a rule, these matters would be dealt with under conventions of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, such as the Hague Service Convention of 1965 and the Hague Evidence Convention of 1970, and in family law matters the Hague Convention of 1996 on the Protection of Children and the Hague Convention of 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support.  Cooperation under these conventions would be carried out via the relevant central authorities. In Finland, this central authority would be the Ministry of Justice.

Common EU legislation is part of judicial cooperation. Legislation that only applies to relations between EU Member States would no longer apply to the UK after its withdrawal from the EU. If there is UK-based defendant in a civil case, the international jurisdiction of a Finnish court in a civil case that falls under the scope of application of the Brussels I Regulation would, as a rule, be determined under chapter 10 of the Code of Judicial Procedure. In bankruptcy cases, the relevant legislation would be chapter 7, section 1, subsection 2 of the Bankruptcy Act. A judgement issued by a UK court on a civil case would not be recognised or implemented by Finland after the withdrawal date. The same would apply to decisions on insolvency cases.

In a no-deal situation, EU legislation would no longer apply to criminal cases that are pending at the time of withdrawal. This would be mean that the European arrest warrant, the European investigation order and the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), among others, would cease to apply to cooperation with the UK. Requests for legal assistance, service of documents and extradition between the UK and EU Member States would instead follow the rules in Council of Europe conventions and additional protocols. It would still be possible to request information from criminal records in criminal cases, but cooperation would cease for any other purposes. To some extent, matters would be dealt with via central authorities instead of using direct contacts, which could slow down procedures in some cases.

Transfer of personal data to the UK

A no-deal withdrawal would mean changes to the rules on the transfer of personal data from the EU to the UK, affecting citizens, companies and public authorities alike. It is essential that companies established in the EU, for example, have sufficient knowledge of the requirements for transfer of personal data to the UK in a no-deal scenario. European data protection authorities are working together on this issue, and in Finland, the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman will publish the necessary information on its website.

Consumer protection

As a rule, the rights of consumers residing in Finland would not be affected by a no-deal withdrawal. While EU legislation on consumer protection and passenger rights would not apply to the UK after it leaves the EU, Finnish consumers would, as a rule, still enjoy protection under the mandatory consumer protection rules under EU law even when dealing with UK-based operators. More detailed information and guidelines on consumer protection matters are available at the website of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority.

Other matters concerning a no-deal withdrawal

An important consideration is the position of Finnish citizens in the UK. The UK government has published guidance on how to prepare for the event that the UK should leave the EU with no deal.

Finnish ministries and authorities will provide information on their respective websites about the impacts of a no-deal withdrawal. The Prime Minister’s Office has collected Brexit preparedness information and links on its website.

The European Commission has issued a Communication and a number of preparedness notices in preparation for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with no deal.

Inquiries: Katja Arenmaa (Brexit coordination within the mandate of the Ministry of Justice), email address in the format firstname.lastname@om.fi

Matters outside the mandate of the Ministry of Justice: Prime Minister’s Office webpage on Brexit preparedness