International Law Bulletin / BREXIT (DE)



As time went by the European attempted to create a system which would retain on the one hand national sovereignty but on the other incorporate many elements much like the legal system in the United States whereby there would be one higher overlooking body or bodies which would centrally regulate all those states underneath so that there would be some form of homogeneity amongst them.  In other words although the nations themselves are independent they must abide by the common rules/agreements/treaties (many of which have direct effect, in other words are instantly applicable upon their issuance) decided upon by the competent bodies of the EU.

The European Union is for the most part a political and economic union focusing on financial matters and the manner in which they can be regulated as a whole across the board.  This is not to say that the Union has shied away from issues of a social nature such as human rights, but for the most part the Union's priorities were of a financial nature, something which can be seen from the opposition to the Treaty which would have incorporated the European Constitution.

The United Kingdom joined the European Union during its first enlargement in 1973 making it one of the 9 nations to constitute the European Union.  


The UK and the EU: An affair to remember


The United Kingdom, following France's vetoing its entry 10 years earlier, entered the EU in 1973.  From the date of its entry until the recent outcome of the UK referendum, the UKs journey with the EU has been shaky, to say the least.  The first UK referendum held so as to ascertain whether or not the UK would leave or stay in the EEC was in 1975, a short 2 years after it entered the now Union.  The overwhelming majority (about 2/3) voted for the UK membership to continue.  Since then the UK has been involved in arguments relating to contributions which should be made to the EU, the Single European Currency, the UK's withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and finally the events leading up to the recent referendum

The United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum Act 2015 paved the road for the United Kingdoms' exit from the European Union.  On the 23rd of July 72 percent of registered voters voted with a slight majority (51.89%) to leave the European Union. 


Follow the yellow brick road . to the Exit


The EU had foreseen the possibility of a Member State wishing to leave the Union.  In whole of the EU's history this is the first time that it seems that a Member State might withdraw from the Union.

Article 50 is the relevant provision which lays out the withdrawal procedures.


"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."

As such the United Kingdom, as confirmed by Angela Merkel and her peers, must firstly make an official notification of its intent to leave prior to any negotiations concerning the exit of the United Kingdom can commence.


And then What?


The relationship between Member States and Non-Member states within the EU are varied and allow for a number of different types of interaction.  

For example, the European Economic Area (which provides for the free movement of persons, goods services and capital) allows those states which are members to be part of the EU's single market.  Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway (non EU Member States) belong to the EEA and as such can make use of the aforementioned freedoms.

Another differentiated relationship is that of Switzerland which although is neither a member of the EU nor the EEA is part of the single market via multiple bi-lateral and sectoral agreements.  The treaties negotiated by Switzerland have as a result made a large portion of EU Law applicable.




The purpose of the EU is to extend rules and regulations not only to Member States but to other geographically 'European' Nations.  

As such if the UK's withdrawal from the EU becomes a reality the shape in which the relationship will arise can take a number of forms.  As the UK has already enshrined a number EU treaties, directive etc. into its national legislation it would seem that even with a withdrawal from the Union the UK could not be EU free, unless it decided to overhaul its entire legal system.

Dimitra I. Kourmatzi

Attorney at Law

PhD candidate (University of Athens)

August 2016


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