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© Pathfynder Limited 2018. Pathfynder Solicitors is a trading name of Pathfynder Limited, a company registered in England and Wales with company registration number 10170947. The registered address is King House, 5-11 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4UA. Authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, SRA No. 629672.


brexitThe results of the UK referendum on the EU are in and the UK has voted to go out. The consequences of the vote are being reported widely and, initially, the following key messages are coming through:

- Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation at  8am this morning;

- The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney confirmed that some market volatility can be expected but the Bank of England will not hesitate to adopt measures whilst markets adjust;

- The price of shares and the value of the pound have fallen significantly;

- Boris Johnson announced that there is no need for haste in leaving the EU; and

- Joint statement from Europe that the UK is expected to give effect to the referendum as soon as possible, no matter how painful.

Whilst the timing of the exit is still to be discussed, it appears from both David Cameron’s and Boris Johnson’s comments that it is unlikely to be before the Conservative Party conference in October 2016. In the meantime, no legal changes have occurred in the way we deal with the EU as a result of the referendum.

So what happens next?

There is no precedent for a Member State to leave the EU and as such, the practicalities and mechanics of leaving the EU are yet to be determined.

What we can say is that there is a legal process for leaving the EU and this is contained within Article 50 of the consolidated version of the Treaty on the European Union (‘TEU’), which provides the general power for a Member State to withdraw from the EU in the following terms:

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

The people of the UK have clearly made their decision within the context of the referendum. However, from a constitutional perspective it is likely that Parliament will have to pass primary legislation (either to amend or repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and/or introduce new legislation) before the requirements of Article 50(1) of the TEU can be met. It has been suggested by some that the Prime Minister can make the decision in the absence of legislation being passed by Parliament but this would mean that the European Communities Act 1972 remains in force whilst such action was being taken. Again, there is no precedent here and the practicalities and mechanics of leaving the EU are yet to be determined.

Provided Parliament passes law giving effect to the results of the referendum or some other valid legal authority arises, the UK can give notice to the European Council of its intention to withdraw. The Union will then negotiate and agree with the UK the terms of the withdrawal and, crucially, the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Once an agreement is reached, Article 50 TEU states:

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

In the event that Parliament does not pass law to give effect to the results of the referendum and no other valid legal authority arises to do so, it may be the case that the UK cannot meet the requirements of Article 50(1) TEU and give notice to withdraw from the EU. If this were to happen, the referendum may have been in vain and the political and social backlash is not easy to foresee.

Written by Shahjahan Ali

Please note that this article is for information only and should not be taken as legal and/or financial advice. Immigration law changes regularly and it may be the case that this page has not been updated to take into account the latest changes. If you would like advice on your personal circumstances, please feel free to contact us.

UK votes to leave the EU: legal process of leaving the EU - 24 June 2016