- EU regulations say that any country that wants to withdraw from the EU may do so.
- The process for how a country can withdraw is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, one of the treaties that forms the basis of EU law.
- The key point in Article 50 is that until a country notifies the EU of its intention to withdraw, nothing happens. Once it notifies the EU of its intention, then the withdrawal process starts with a two-year deadline.
The British just voted in a referendum to leave the European Union (EU). But just voting on it doesn’t make it so. There are steps that a member country has to take in order to withdraw. These steps are described in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty1, one of the treaties that forms the basis of EU law.
Article 50 (shown below) says that “(a) Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.” After the EC is informed, official negotiations can begin. Once negotiations begin, the two sides have two years to finish them. If negotiations aren’t finished after two years, the country is out regardless.
The key point is this: the member state has to notify EC of its intention to withdraw from the EU. Until the country has submitted this formal notification, nothing changes. Moreover, the EU can’t do anything to speed up the notification. It can only wait for the letter.
Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, attention is turning to exactly when the UK government will notify the EU authorities under Article 50 and trigger the beginning of the two-year negotiation period. Originally, PM Cameron had said this would be happen immediately after the referendum, but he also said that he would remain as PM. Both turned out to be wrong. Apparently, nobody is in much of a rush to notify the EU.
Indeed, there are several reasons to think that this won’t happen any time soon. Cameron’s resignation pushes the task of sending the notice onto the next PM, who won’t take office until probably September at the earliest. This was quite a clever move, as it forces the “Leave” side to take full responsibility for their actions. It’s notable that many of the key figures behind the “Leave” campaign are showing no urgency to get on with it. Boris Johnson, one of the leaders of the “Leave” side and expected to be the next PM, has said that change “will not come in any great rush.” Leaders of the “Leave” campaign are admitting that many of their promises were only “possibilities,” as one put it, and now that they have to fulfill them, they are not so eager.
Secondly, very few people in power in the UK wanted to leave the EU. For example, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the Members of Parliament wanted to stay, and according to the UK system of government, Parliament – not the people – are in charge. So Parliament may at least delay sending the notification.
A further complication is the need to get approval by the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which voted to stay in the EU. Although they have no legal veto, they could (and probably will) try to block the move. That issue may have to be cleared up before the notification can be sent.
In short, although the UK voters did endorse leaving the EU in the recently held referendum, this is not the same as actually leaving the EU. Expect to be reading about this issue for some time.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
- Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
- 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.
- 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.
- For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, 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.
- If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
Article published on the 30th June 2016.