Brexit...What next

6th July 2016

With Britain voting to leave the European Union, we look at what’s next and how long it will take.

This is no short-term relationship where you can un-follow, delete and move on from the EU. There is a formal legal process called Article 50 - but it's never been used and when it was created nobody thought anyone would ever want to quit the EU so it is pretty vague; and it is not known how long it will take for the UK to exit the EU.

What is Article 50?

The right of a Member State to withdraw from the EU was introduced for the first time with the Lisbon Treaty under Article 50: a very basic five point plan should any country wish to leave the EU:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, 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. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

  4. The member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

    A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  1. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to re-join, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

When will the UK start the process to leave?

Following the ‘leave’ vote the UK must now advise the European Council of their intention to leave the EU. It is up to the British government alone whether and when to trigger Article 50. In terms of the UK’s domestic constitutional law, the government may choose the ask Parliament to vote in favour of Article 50 notification; but there is no legal or constitutional requirement to do so. The government can just go ahead and do it.

What happens once the UK have triggered Article 50?

Once the UK tells the EU that it is withdrawing under Article 50 the UK will carry on taking part in EU business as normal, but won’t participate in internal EU discussions or decisions about its withdrawal. 

The UK and the EU will then have two years to negotiate terms of the UK’s exit. These are likely to be complex and could take a lot longer than the prescribed two year; especially if the UK wants to ensure that it retains full access to the Single Market. However, if there is no unanimous agreement to extend the negotiations then they would stop and the UK would cease to be a member of the EU.

Can the UK ever re-join the EU?

Following the UK’s final exit from the EU, the only way in which they would be able to re-join is under Article 49. There would be a formal application, which would lead to years of discussion on a wide range of topics from regulation, funding, migration and security to name but a few. The other Member States would also have to vote to allow the UK to re-join; and any one Member State could veto and block the UK’s entry. There would also be the likelihood that the UK would have to agree to certain policies which they are currently excluded from; and there is an additional requirement for all new members to adopt the Euro as their currency.

In short, the UK could eventually re-join the EU, but it would not be able to go back to a pre-Brexit state.