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Life in the exit lane

If the British people vote on 23rd June to leave the European Union, we will still be a member of the EU on the morning of 24th June 2016 and, very probably, still members on 24th June 2018. Britain is bound by treaty obligations to her partners in the 27 other Member States of the EU and those obligations (and rights) only cease when the existing network of mutual obligations has been unwound.

The initial shockwaves of a vote to leave would be felt in financial markets (Britain’s in particular, but probably right across Europe) and in British politics. The future of David Cameron as Prime Minister would be on the line. The referendum result is not, constitutionally, binding on Parliament but even a narrow vote to leave would, in political reality, have to be honoured by the Government.

Under the terms of the EU Treaty, the British Government would notify the European Council (the collective of EU Heads of Government) of Britain’s intention to withdraw from the EU. How quickly that notification would be made would depend in part on how much domestic political turmoil had been unleashed by the result.

Under Article 50, the European Council would meet but without the British being present. The 27 other EU Heads of Government would decide on the terms of the negotiation with the UK about its departure and would mandate the European Commission to open those negotiations with the UK on their behalf. Article 50 is about the arrangements for a Member State’s withdrawal from the EU, not about its future relationship with its former partners, though the negotiations are, the Article says, to be conducted “taking account of the framework for [the departing Member State’s] future relationship with the Union”.

Two years are allowed for the negotiations, though if all 27 member Governments agree, the period can be extended. At the end of the negotiating period, the 27 decide by a qualified majority vote on the terms of the future relationship. The UK Government would have no vote.

In a series of articles published by Portland, Vote Leave campaigners Michael Gove and George Eustice clash with some of Britain’s most experienced diplomats on the question at the heart of Britain’s EU referendum: what would happen if Britain votes for Brexit on 23rd June? 

Click here to read Sir Stephen Wall’s article in full.

Written By

Sir Stephen Wall