Brexit: A very complicated exit

BrexitRepercussions from Brexit continue to make headlines. The United Kingdom's vote to with draw from the EU will have profound and far ranging effects on everything from data protection to global markets to declining use of the english language. But the breakup has yet to take place. And leaving is not a simple matter.

No country has ever left the EU, and the UK's recent vote to leave has not officially set anything in motion. The recent Brexit referrendum resulted in a 52% Leave vs 48% Stay vote. But the referrendum was non binding, with no legal weight. Essentially it just assessed public opinion, and now the legalities of actually departing will begin.

Adding to the turmoil surrounding everything Brexit is the lack of a legal framework within the UK for exiting the EU. Some people thought the referrendum vote would be binding. Then the concensus was that the Prime Minister would have to initiate the process. Recently legal scholars have opined that the departure procedure must be voted on and approved by parliament before action can begin. Now a top law firm is preparing a legal challenge to ensure that parliamentary approval must be given before the Prime Minister initiates the departure.

The legal departure procedure is set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The UK must formally invoke Article 50, which will initiate a 2 year period for negotiating the terms of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. 

If negotiations are not finished after 2 years the time period can be extended, but only if all remaining EU members unanimously agree to an extension. If no agreement is reached and the time period is not extended, then the UK would simply be out, with none of the rules or rights of membership in effect.

Once article 50 is invoked the UK continues to participate in most EU matters as it has in the past, and must meet the obligations and responsibilities of EU membership. But it is not allowed to take part in the discussions concerning its withdrawal. The terms of the separation have to be approved by the remaining 27 member countries.

Only the UK can trigger Article 50, and there is no time limit on when it needs to take place. However, leaders of other EU countries are urging the UK to move forward without unnecessary delay. David Cameron, the current Prime Minister, is stepping down in light of the decision to leave the EU. He has said he will not invoke Article 50 and will leave that to his successor. The successor will not be announced until September and it is unlikely that formal notice will be given before 2017.

The UK has been part of the EU for over 4 decades. Although the given time frame for the negotiation is 2 years, scholars and experts claim the process will take far longer, perhaps as long as 10 years. For perspective, experts note that trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years to formulate.

Currently there are about 3 million EU nationals living, attending school, or working in the UK, and about 2 million UK nationals doing the same in other parts of Europe. Determining the rights of those individuals is an enormous and complicated matter to resolve.

Inextricably entwined are the two opposing and high profile issues of immigration and the single market.  The single market is predicated on four freedoms -  the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital among the EU member states. 

Control over immigration was a primary, perhaps THE primary, driver behind the leave vote. At the same time access to the European single market is critically important to the economic health of the UK. EU leaders have made it very clear that access to the single market is dependant upon the UK accepting the free movement of people. 

There will be, the UK was told, no "single market ala carte." This eliminates what for many voters was THE reason for leaving.