The process of withdrawing from the European Union Contents

The process of withdrawing from the European Union

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.The forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU has focused attention on the process whereby a Member State could withdraw from the EU. Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which was incorporated into the EU Treaties by the Treaty of Lisbon, and which came into force on 1 December 2009, provided for the first time an explicit right under EU law to withdraw from the EU, and a means of doing so. The full text of Article 50, which has never been invoked, is set out in Appendix 3 to this report.

2.In February 2016, the Government published a Command Paper entitled The process for withdrawing from the European Union,1 the findings of which have been widely challenged by those campaigning to leave the EU. We wanted to have as clear an understanding as possible of the process whereby the UK would withdraw from the EU, should the electorate so decide on 23 June. We therefore held a public evidence session with two experts in the field of EU law: Sir David Edward KCMG, QC, PC, FRSE, a former Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Union and Professor Emeritus at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh; and Professor Derrick Wyatt QC, Emeritus Professor of Law, Oxford University, and also of Brick Court Chambers.

3.This short report sets out our findings. It considers whether Article 50 is the only means of leaving the EU, and whether a decision to withdraw from the EU can be reversed. It explains both the process for leaving the EU and the process for establishing the UK’s new relationship with the EU. It assesses the influence of the EU’s institutions on the negotiations. It also considers the risks of the negotiations failing, and the consequences for UK citizens living in other EU Member States, and EU citizens living in the UK, if they do. It considers the UK’s participation in the EU during the negotiations, which could last many years, including whether it can assume the six-monthly EU presidency in the second half of 2017. Lastly, it looks at the role the UK and devolved legislatures might play in the negotiations, and considers the complexities of disentangling EU law from national law.

4.We have not sought to express a view on the desirability or otherwise of embarking on the process of withdrawal from the EU. Nor, while we have noted the Government’s assessment of the process for withdrawing from the EU, in the Command Paper already mentioned, have we commented on the accuracy or otherwise of that assessment. Instead our conclusions, based as they are on expert evidence, are, as far as possible, neutral statements of fact. We are indebted to our witnesses for their invaluable assistance, but the conclusions reached in this report, while informed by their views, are our own.

5.We make this report for debate.


1 HM Government, The process for withdrawing from the European Union (February 2016): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-process-for-withdrawing-from-the-european-union [accessed 21 April 2016]




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