Last Thursday, June 23, the British people voted to leave the European Union in an unprecedented referendum about membership of the European Union. According to the official result 51.9% of the registered voters choose to leave against 48.1% who wanted the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. This blog will assess certain aspects of the outcome of the referendum and will try to clarify what the next steps of the so-called Brexit are. As the events are developing very fast over the past few days this is not an exhaustive list of aspects. For the most recent news one can look at the following websites:

Political fallout

As a direct result of the Brexit vote Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Friday June 24th to resign. In his speech he noted that ‘fresh leadership’ is needed to start the article 50 Treaty on the European Union procedure. Furthermore, he elaborated that – in his view- this procedure should start when there is a new Prime Minister, in October. However, some European leaders in reaction to this news already noted that this Article 50-procedure should start as soon as possible. The European Parliament affirmed this view on Tuesday June 28th. In the early days after the referendum this is a vast debating point which until now is unresolved. This particular Article-50 procedure will be described below.

The second political fallout of the Brexit vote is the resignation on Saturday June 25th of European Commissioner in charge of financial services in the Juncker Commission, Jonathan Hill.

What’s next according to European Law?

Paragraph 1 of article 50 Treaty on European Union states that the decision of withdrawal from the European Union is a sole prerogative of the Member State. The decision to do so needs, therefore, to be in accordance with Britain’s own constitutional requirements. It should be noted that the referendum is not legally binding. The Guardian already wrote that ‘Members of Parliament technically could choose to ignore the referendum result, but it would be madness for politicians to attempt to go directly against a popular referendum result.’

To start the actual withdrawal procedure the British government needs to send a formal notification to the European Council. As already mentioned above, political leaders both in Great Britain and on the European continent differ when the British government should do so.  Leaders of the 27 member states of the European Union convene after the formal notification is given to discuss the British notification and to start the formal procedure to draft a ‘Withdrawal Treaty’ with Great Britain. The European Union already made progress in this field by appointing Didier Seeuws, former chief of staff of European Council President Herman van Rompuy, to lead the negotiations with Great Britain.

Mr. Seeuws is tasked to draft a ‘Withdrawal Treaty’ which then needs to be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining consent of the European Parliament. It is, hereafter, confirmed by the 27 remaining heads of state of the European Union.

If such a negotiation between the United Kingdom and the European Union is successful, the date of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union will then be the date of entry into force of the Withdrawal Treaty they will have agreed on together. Otherwise, if the negotiations of the Withdrawal Treaty fail, the withdrawal will automatically happen two years after the notification of the United Kingdom's decision to the European Council, according to art. 50 paragraph 3. This particular provision is also the reason why mr. Cameron wants to wait with the formal notification. In case he notifies the European Council the clock will start ticking and then a withdrawal treaty needs to be concluded within two years. By noticing the European Council in October he adds three more months to the period of negotiation.

During the necessary period for negotiating, signing and ratifying a Withdrawal Treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union, the United Kingdom will remain a Member State of the European Union and continue to participate in its activities under the same conditions as before.breakdown

As many formal procedures are still unclear due to internal political discussions it cannot be said when the formal notification will be given.

Territory

Besides political fallout, a second take-away of the referendum is that it reveals the old differences within the United Kingdom itself. Scotland, which voted affirmingly two years ago on the question whether to stay in the United Kingdom, certainly wants to remain part of the European Union. The referendum result was, therefore, overwhelmingly remain, as the breakdown of the election shows: Blue represents remain; red leave.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon already said that with this Brexit vote, the chance of a second Scottish referendum on independence from the United Kingdom is highly likely.

The same goes for ‘the Troubles’ in Northern-Ireland. Northern-Ireland, just like Scotland, voted tremendously in favor of remaining a member of the European Union. With this outcome the separation between Belfast and London is again being touched upon which is not good for the stability within the United Kingdom. A last territorial question which is raised because of the Brexit outcome is the territorial sovereignty of Gibraltar. On Friday June, 24th Spain called, because of the outcome of the referendum, for shared sovereignty of Gibraltar. Spain did so because 95.9% of the population of Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union.

Young vs old

A third take-away from the Brexit vote deals with the internal politics which can be comparably seen in other elections on the European mainland, e.g. the past elections in Spain on June 26th.

ageAs the Guardian put it in an article published on June 24th, the vote to leave the European Union has ‘revealed a deep generational and social divide in the country, with younger metropolitan and higher-educated voters appearing to strongly oppose Brexit.’[1]

Conclusion

All in all the Brexit vote came as a surprise for the British people as well as for people living on the European continent. As no other country has ever left the European Union every step in the withdrawal process is highly scrutinized. In the (near) future the Peace Palace Library staff will closely follow the unprecedented negotiations in our blogs and in our research guide European Union. Furthermore, in order to shed some light on the process, the European Parliament Research Service made a very interesting and useful tool bundling all think-tank reports which are written about the Brexit. A read worthwhile!

European Parliament Research Service

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[1] The Guardian, June 24th, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/young-remain-voters-came-out-in-force-but-were-outgunned (last accessed June 30th).

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