What happens now? The UK post-Brexit

Posted On: 
30th June 2016

Prof Alison Harcourt from the University of Exeter writes about the processes which now follow the EU referendum result.

Credit: 
PA

What happens now? There will be a politically determined agreement from the Cabinet office with the European Council of Ministers followed by the drawing up of a new trade agreement with the UK. No EU Member State can agree bilateral trade agreements with the UK without triggering Article 50, the formal legal mechanism for the UK leaving the European Union. Article 50 is expected to be triggered in October as announced by Cameron on June 24th 2016. Delay in triggering Article 50 is not expected due to concerns over investment confidence. 

Does there need to be a Brexit bill? No, there needs to be no new bill as the UK had an Act in place for the organisation of the Referendum. The European Communities Act, which is expected to come into effect in circa 2020, will need to be amended when the UK leaves. When negotiations start the UK will have transitional arrangements in place until 2020 to cover how it will operate within the EU during this time. The final agreement to leave would be need to be agreed by 20 out of the 27 remaining EU Member States (65% of the population) and approved by the European Parliament (on simple majority, 751 MEPs). The UK MEPs would still be able to vote on the agreement at this stage.

The formal “Leave” date following the formal agreement should be circa 2022. During the next 5 years, there should be opt-in arrangements. If the UK opts-out of EU agreements, it has to notify other Member States and they have the option to employ counter measures. The worst-case scenario would be if the EU were to invoke Article 7 to force the UK to leave immediately but this is unlikely. In the interim, legal uncertainly exists over European Court of Justice and other decision-making powers of the European Union such as competition law and decisions of the many European agencies. Post-Brexit, the UK government estimates that it could “take up to a decade or more to negotiate a new agreement with the EU and to replace our existing trade deals with other countries”.

Will there be a second referendum for Scotland? This is probably on the cards, but this is not expected to be soon as the vote could be the final opportunity Scotland has to leave. If Scotland did become an independent nation, and then join the EU, it would most likely join Schengen because it would not receive the Schengen opt-out the UK had. This could cause difficulties for the UK due to the long border the UK shares with Scotland. Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are Schengen members even if they are not EU members. 

Can the UK have another referendum? Legally it is possible but it would be really challenging. Once the UK starts Article 50, it probably cannot change our mind vis-à-vis other Members. The UK Parliament has little appetite for a second referendum and a second and possibly more solid Leave vote would preclude any future attempt to re-enter in ten, fifteen years down the line.