On June 23 2016, the UK holds a referendum to determine the future of its relationship with the European Union. The country votes – by the slimmest of margins – to leave the EU and the term ‘Brexit’ is coined for the process.
Spurious claims are made by both campaigns, with ‘Leave’ supporters and ‘Remain’ supporters alike presenting possible outcomes as factual inevitabilities, despite the lack of any guidance-giving precedents. Persuasiveness-over-accuracy is the theme of the referendum, as Brexiteer tactics rely heavily on tying the issue to immigration. Faced with competing public priorities, the tactical combination of measures used to ‘win’ the referendum now serves very little purpose in terms of helping the UK to negotiate its exit from the EU. A period of economic uncertainty and political change (particularly in personnel) follows the result, with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, a Remain campaigner, among the high profile figures to resign. He is replaced by Home Secretary Theresa May on July 13.
Breaking down the vote, the referendum outcome is that 51.9% of voters support the UK’s exit from the EU, with 48.1% backing the remain stance. In hard numbers, 17,410,742 people vote to leave; while 16,141,241 opt to remain. National turnout is logged at 72%.
The terms of the UK’s exit will be determined in negotiations with the EU upon triggering of Article 50 – the relevant clause of the EU Treaty governing measures for a member state in the event that it wishes to abandon its membership status. Withdrawal is likely to take at least two years, with timeframes set to vary depending on the nature of Brexit. ‘Hard Brexit’ would see the UK dispose of its commitment to the principle of free movement of people, with trade arrangements needing to be established. Such arrangements would probably be shaped by World Trade Organisation rules. ‘Soft Brexit’ would entail continued membership of the EU single market, alongside the retention of at least some degree of ‘free movement of people’.
In the absence of a precedent in this area, each stage of Brexit negotiations has the potential to raise entirely new issues and push back the effective departure date even further.
Keep up to date on the latest Brexit-related developments
28 November 2016
The government faces a new legal challenge over whether the UK should remain in the EEA after leaving the EU. Think tank British Influence says that leaving the EU does not mean automatically withdrawing from the EEA, which would involve a separate process to trigger Article 127 of the EEA agreement.
The group says that triggering Article 127 would have to be approved by Parliament, and that the government could be acting outside its powers if it withdraws from the EEA without this mandate.
The government’s position is that the UK is only party to the EEA agreement in its capacity as an EU member state and will automatically cease to be a member of the EEA upon leaving the EU.
18 November 2016
The Supreme Court has confirmed that the Lord Advocate for Scotland and Counsel General for Wales will be heard in the appeal against the High Court ruling that MPs must be able to vote on triggering Article 50.
The hearing will begin on 5th December and will also include submissions from Northern Ireland victims campaigner Raymond McCord and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
8 November 2016
The Supreme Court has granted the government’s application to appeal the ruling by the High Court that it does not have the power to trigger Article 50 without approval by Parliament.
The Scottish government has confirmed it will intervene, with the Lord Advocate applying to be heard in the appeal. If the intervention is successful, it could mean both Holyrood and Westminster’s approval is needed before Article 50 can be triggered.
The appeal will be heard from the 5th to the 8th of December, with a final judgement expected in early 2017.
7 November 2016
Despite the ruling by the High Court, Theresa May has said she expects to trigger Brexit by the end of March 2017 as planned.
The Prime Minister has also said that if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, they should specify how the vote might happen. It is currently unclear whether a resolution would suffice or a full Act of Parliament is required.
3 November 2016
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without approval by Parliament, finding that the government does not have the power to do so under the Crown’s prerogative.
A spokesman said the government is “disappointed” by the ruling and an appeal to the Supreme Court is expected to take place in December.
28 October 2016
The High Court in Belfast has dismissed a legal challenge against Brexit, ruling that there is nothing in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement to prevent the government from triggering Article 50.
Two separate proceedings were brought, one by Raymond McCord, a campaigner for victims of the Troubles, and one by politicians from Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party.
18 October 2016
The government has said it is “very likely” MPs will be able to vote on the final Brexit agreement after Article 50 is triggered.
18 October 2016
Judges in the High Court are deliberating on the question of whether the government has the right to invoke Article 50 without a parliamentary vote, in a case brought by Gina Miller (an investment manager) and others.
Lord Justice Thomas told the court that a ruling would be given “as quickly as possible”, although the case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court and heard there towards the end of the year.
7 October 2016
The House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee has launched an inquiry into future trade in services between the UK and the EU after Brexit, focusing specifically on the following sectors: digital and telecommunications; professional business services; aviation; and creative and broadcasting.