Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Last updated: 10 December, 2018

'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
  • 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), this process is expected to last up to two years. 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.

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 will need 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...


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.