Brexit: The Possibilities

Francisco A. Laguna & Amy Turner

 This week, we conclude our Brexit series with an examination of the possibilities of how the withdrawal process may take shape. Since the 23 June 2016 Brexit vote, several questions have arisen. Within Europe, a dispute has started about whether the decision to invoke Article 50 is the prerogative of the UK government, or if it requires Parliamentary assent. Government lawyers advised that invoking Article 50 is a government prerogative. However, the repeal of the European Communities Act by Parliament is a prerequisite, which automatically involves the UK parliament.

Another question is the extent to which the Northern Ireland Executive, Scottish Government and Welsh Government will have to be involved in the process. In this regard, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated that legislative assent to act to implement withdrawal from the EU would be given by the Scottish Parliament.

According to Article 50, the negotiations concerning changes over budgets, voting allocations and policies due to the withdrawal of member states are the responsibility of the remaining members of the EU. However, as we discussed last week, since Article 50 has not been official invoked, official negotiations the UK, the other states and the European Commission cannot yet begin.

The decision was made to forgo any discussions until the UK formally invokes Article 50 during a meeting of Heads of States. Indeed, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker took a strong stance and ordered that EU members not engage with UK parties regarding Brexit. This lead to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, to state that access to the European Single Market would not be given to the UK until they accept its “four freedoms of goods, capital, services, and people”.

The changing relationship with the UK and the remaining EU members could evolve several ways. For example, the UK could remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) as a European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member (alongside Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). The UK could attempt to join the EEA as an EFTA member. Under this plan the UK would be required to follow EU internal market legislation without being able to participate in its development or vote on its content. However, the EU is required to conduct extensive consultations with non-EU members beforehand via its many committees and cooperative bodies.

Under the EEA Agreement, certain policy areas are not apply to EFTA members such as: Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies; Customs Union; Common Trade Policy; Common Foreign and Security Policy; direct and indirect taxation; and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. This allows the EFTA members to set their own policies in those areas. Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, Customs Union, Common Trade Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, direct and indirect taxation, and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. In order to access the internal market, EFTA countries must contribute to the EU budget.

Another option could be that the UK would use the Swiss model and seek to negotiate bilateral terms via a series of interdependent sectoral agreements. The Swiss agreements contain free movement for EU citizens. Interestingly, the Swiss immigration referendum of February 2014 voted narrowly in favor of an end to the “free movement” agreement by February 2017. If this path is chosen, Britain must keep in mind that the bilateral treaties between Switzerland and the European Union are all co-dependent. This means that if one is terminated, then all are terminated. Barring a compromise, Switzerland’s unilateral choice to end the “free movement” agreement by Switzerland could cause all EU and Swiss agreements to become invalid.

Despite the fact that many politicians had weighed in on how they think a plan should work, no real plan has been established.  However, it is very clear that membership rights require input from every individual member, and many few the Brexit vote as a snub and the UK’s failure to invoke Article 50 as a means of continuing to benefit from its membership in the EU for as long as possible.

Contact TransLegal with your questions concerning Brexit and how it may impact your business.

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