The process of EU withdrawal

On 29 February 2016, Government published a detailed paper setting out the process that would follow in the event of a vote to leave the EU in the UK's referendum, under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

Following the vote to leave, the House of Lords Library has published a paper that outlines further details of the role Parliament will take in this process.

The information below is a summary of the Government's paper, with supplementary information from recent CBI publications on the EU referendum.

Key points to note on the likely exit process:

  • the UK would notify the European Council of its intention to leave the EU;
  • the European Council would set guidelines for the complex process of negotiations involving all 27 remaining EU Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament;
  • two years are allowed from notification of the withdrawal to conclude an exit deal, at that point the UK would automatically leave the EU;
  • if no agreement on the future UK-EU relationship is reached during these two years, the UK would automatically withdraw and UK-EU trade would be subject to standard World Trade Organization (WTO) rules set out in the next section of FDF's toolkit;
  • talks can only be extended with unanimous agreement from all 27 remaining EU Member States;
  • the UK would not participate in internal EU discussions or decisions regarding its withdrawal. EU laws would continue to apply for the UK and it would participate in all other EU business;
  • before the referendum, Government suggested it would be difficult for the UK to complete exit negotiations within two years. Greenland's EU exit took three years to negotiate, for a very small country with a comparatively simple focus on fisheries policy.

Additional points of interest

  • The exit deal would not cover future trade and wider co-operation arrangements. A separate agreement would be needed for this, requiring unanimous support from all 27 Member States and, potentially, ratification by some national parliaments;
  • On leaving the EU, the UK may no longer benefit from preferential access to 53 countries that currently have trade agreements with the EU. A further 72 countries are currently negotiating or preparing to implement trade deals with the EU;
  • Government suggests that while negotiations with the EU continue, the UK would be constrained in its ability to secure trade deals with non-EU countries, who would first wish to know terms of the UK's new relationship with the EU.

EU referendum toolkit index


Last reviewed: 21 Nov 2017