Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Last updated: 31 July, 2019

'Brexit' - The Process of the UK withdrawing from the European Union

On this page:
  • Summary - A brief outline of the background to Brexit
  • Documents - Links to some of the key legal documents relating to Brexit
  • Regulations - Links to some of the draft and final Regulations being issued to implement Brexit and ensure the legal framework exists from 'exit day'
  • News items - Links to relevent items of news given on this sites news pages


There had been a strong political movement for many years for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Eventually the UK government agreed to allow a referendum to be held to allow the people of the UK to decide the issue. This was held on the 23rd June 2016 and the result was that about 52% wished to withdraw and 48% wished to remain. The government accepted this result and was committed to withdrawing from the Union.

The Treaty on the European Union has an Article on allowing a country to become a new Member State (Article 49) but also includes a single Article on the process of leaving. This is given in Article 50:

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

2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Under Article 50(2), a Member State is required to notify the European Council of the decision to withdraw. Following the UK referendum it was necessary for the UK government to undertake some planning and so formal notification only took place on the 29 March 2017. Under the terms of Article 50(2), this triggers a process of discussion to agree the 'arrangements for .. withdrawal'. Under Article 50(3).. However if no agreement is reached after two years, the UK will automatically cease to be a Member State - on the 29 March 2019. Also in Article 50(3) there is a posssibility of extending this limit but this requires the unanimous agreement of all the remaining 27 Member States.

The legislation adopted by the UK in June 2018 to implement the withdrawal, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, specified that 'Exit Day' would be on the 29th March 2019 at 11.00pm. On 'Exit Day', the UK will cease to be a Member State at that point. Negotiations have taken place to agree transitional arrangements for a period after 'Exit Day'. However the UK Withdrawal Act includes a provision that requires the approval of Parliament to any withdrawal agreement. The UK government agreed a 'Withdrawal Agreement' with the EU in December 2018 but it has, so far, failed to get the agreement of Parliament to it. Article 50 does however provide for a possible extension should all the other Member States agree to it. After two difficult weeks in the UK Parliament, on Thursday 14th March, Parliamanet adopted a motion requesting the Goverment to seek an extension until the end of June 2019.

The Prime Minister submitted her request for an extension on the 20 March 2019. The European Council considered this on the following day and provided an opportunity for an short extension but not until June (see documents list below). This was accepted by th UK Government and a draft amending regulation issued to put this into effect.. The UK Parliament was though still unable to reach an agereement on a 'deal' and, on 5 April 2019, the Prime Minister submitted a second request for an extension until the end of June2019. At another European Council meeting on the 10 April it was agreed to offer one further extension (until 31 October) although, if the UK fails to participate in the elections for the European Parliament (due in the UK on the 23 May) the UK will have to leave on the 1st June even if the withdrawal agreement has not been the UK Parliament.

As the UK has been a Member State since 1973, there is a huge amount of national legislation that either is derived from EU legislation or is based on the assumption that the UK is a Member State. It is therefore a massive task to establish a revised legal status that is consistent and which meets the needs of the UK to maintain close relationships with the remaining 27 Member States. The precise nature of that 'close relationship' will though be subject to the negotiations and any subsequent agreement.

Within the context of food law, there are many things which are having to to be decided either in the context of the overall agreement (e.g. any continuing access to the internal market for trade in goods) or with the detail of food law requirements. The following are a few examples of issues needing consideration:

This page aims to bring together material linked to the process of 'Brexit'. It will be developed and extended as the events unfold...



Using powers contained in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (see link above), the Government is authorised to issue Regulations to ensure that all legislation based on EU legislation contain valid legal requirements and can be effectively implemented and enforced (so as to remove legal 'deficiencies'). This is a major task but simplified procedures have been established. The Act sets out a process for this and includes the issuing of draft regulations prior to their adoption. Many of the changes make amendments to exisitng EU Regulations allowing for their continued application (as amended) to the UK.

When spotted, links will be provided here to some of these. The final adopted Regulations will also be included in the pages given details of all UK regulations (see: Food Legislation - Index to access):

Draft Regulations:

Adopted Regulations:

Note: These Regulations become effective on 'Exit Day' or, if published after 'Exit Day', the day after publication.




Northern Ireland

News Items

News items linked to the process of negotiating withdrawal - both general and food law related:

This page was first provided on 25 May 2017
To go to main Foodlaw-Reading Index page, click here.