The voters have spoken. Brexit it is.

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by Catherine Barnard, Professor of European Union Law 
and the Jean Monnet Chair of EU Law 
in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge

The voters have spoken. Brexit it is.

But what does Brexit in fact mean? Pulling up the drawbridge altogether or entering some special relationship with the EU? One possibility would be adopting EU law-lite, through membership of the European Economic Area. The UK would retain access to the single market but would still have to pay a membership fee and probably accept free movement of persons, at least in a modified form. What about free trade agreements like the one the EU has with Canada (which is not yet ratified)? But what would this mean for the UK’s flourishing services sector? There are some unpalatable choices ahead for politicians to make.

Meanwhile, there are some important constitutional questions to be addressed. What is required to trigger Article 50 TEU, the legal provision for a country to leave the European Union? Can the Prime Minister do it by way of the exercise of her prerogative (inherent) powers or will there need to be an Act of Parliament? This issue is currently being litigated in the British courts.

Once triggered, how long will the negotiation process take? The Article envisages two years, but with the possibility of an extension but only by unanimous agreement. How will the negotiations fit in with the elections in France and Germany when their leaders have their eye on domestic matters? Can the UK civil service, 25% smaller than in 2005, cope with the severe strains that Brexit will put it under? And what about the position of Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The Brexit vote was the easy bit. The hard work is about to begin.

___

Picture credits: ‘Brexit, Polling station sign for the EU referendum vote’, by Ungry Young Man.

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