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Brexit - how it would all work

Myths and Misconceptions

There are many myths and misconceptions about the Brexit process and what it will involve. During the campaign, near hysterical fears were voiced that somehow the UK would be plunged into a situation where we would be cut off from trading with the EU or even somehow severely hampered in in trading with the wider world.

The 9.5m leaflet distributed in May 2016 at taxpayers' expense which set out the views of the pro-Remain faction within the Government claimed that voting to leave the EU would "create years of uncertainty" and that "it could result in 10 years or more of uncertainty as the UK unpicks our relationship with the EU and renegotiates new arrangements with the EU and over 50 countries round the world."

These alarmist claims do not stand up to critical scrutiny for reasons which we shall carefully explain.

The reality

The reality is that the Brexit process is legally straightforward.  The UK, in common with all other EU Member States, has an unqualified right to give notice of withdrawal from the European Union.  As explained in our first section on the Brexit Process, under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union,  the giving of notice by a Member State is followed by a 2-year period during which an agreement on arrangements for withdrawal and for a continuing future relationship can be negotiated between the withdrawing State and the EU.

A common misconception is that the European Union would be able to delay our departure by dragging out the negotiating process.  This is not correct. The Treaty is clear that at the end of the 2-year period we would cease to be bound by the European Treaties, and therefore cease to be liable for budget contributions and all the other obligations of membership, whether or not the details of exit and of our continuing future relationship had been agreed.

During this two-year period,  the UK would be able to carry out a series of steps which would not need the cooperation or agreement of the EU.

First, we would revise our internal law in preparation for exit so that we could take full advantage of the most important freedom we would regain, which is the ability to decide on our own laws in the wide areas of policy where at present the content of our law is dictated by EU obligations.

Secondly, we would be free to negotiate international trade agreements with other countries including the EFTA states.  Pro-Remain assertions that it can take years to negotiate new free trade agreements are irrelevant and beside the point.  As we explain in our detailed page on Brexit and International Trade Treaties,  the UK is already a party to the EU's external free trade agreements  and there would be no need to negotiate new terms with the other States involved.  All that would be needed is much simpler: for those States to agree to the UK representing itself rather than being represented by the EU Commission, and to continue the existing free trade terms.  They would have every incentive to do this in time for Brexit:  it is impossible to see why Korea for example would want to see tariffs re-imposed on its exports of electronic goods and cars into the UK market.

Thirdly,  we would replace many international arrangments which at present are conducted though the EU by directly joining global or regional multilateral treaties.  In many areas, there is simply no logic or purpose in conducting our international relations through the EU.

Fourthly, we would wish to negotiate a trade relationship with the EU in order to preverse existing trade patterns.  Since we are the EU's best customer and buy far more from the EU than we sell to them,  a free trade deal is more in their interests than in ours and we would have a very strong hand in negotiating free trade on fair and reasonable terms for our mutual benefit without having to pay any sort of "price" for the great "privilege" of continuing to buy goods from the EU without imposing tariffs or other barriers on them.

The steps in the Brexit process

In the following pages, we shall explain the steps which will be followed by the UK in the Brexit process.

First, we explain the legal framework of the Brexit process as laid down in the European Treaties, what needs to be done to trigger it and what happens next.

Then we explain in International Trade Treaties how the UK would take over directly the existing free trade relationships with third countries under the existing EU-third country trade agreements,  preserve its free trade relationship with the EFTA countries,  and then be in a position to start negotiating additional and improved free trade agreements in advance of actual exit from the EU to take effect after exit.

In further instalments of this series, we explain in Amending UK law in preparation for Brexit how the UK could go about reforming its internal laws in the period before for exit,  and how in a large number of areas there are already available global or regional treaties which would replace international arrangements which are currently conducted through the medium of the EU.

In Brexit and the EU Single Market we explain the legal elements which make up the single market, some of which are beneficial but others of which (such as 'Fortress Europe' restrictions it imposes on our trade with non-EU countries) are very harmful. Therefore the objective after exit should not be to remain part of the Single Market with all its negative consequences: instead, the aim should be to maximise the UK's access to the Single Market.

And finally in Brexit - doing a deal with the EU we explain the objectives and negotiating tactics the UK should pursue in seeking a long term agreement governing trade and other relationships with the remaining EU.