1.On 23 June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom voted on the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” When the results were announced, 51.9% of voters had opted to leave the EU, and 48.1% had opted to remain.
2.The referendum presented a binary choice, and the result, though clear, was close. But while the ‘remain’ option, the status quo of EU membership, was a known quantity, the meaning of ‘leave’ was and remains open to interpretation.
3.In reality there are two distinct elements to the Brexit negotiations. The first relates to the simple fact of the UK leaving the EU, and is governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). The second relates to the negotiation of the terms of a new relationship, which will be completed by the UK as an independent, non-EU state, and by the EU under a different legal base. The first element is about bringing a 45-year relationship, and the associated obligations, to an end. The second is about constructing a relationship that will deliver lasting benefits to both sides. The two elements demand different mind-sets, yet are inseparable: as Article 50 TEU states, the agreement on withdrawal must take account of the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the Union.
4.This report argues that the UK and the EU have approached the negotiations with too great an emphasis on the dismantling of existing relationships. They have focused on ‘red lines’ and guidelines, on what is unacceptable, increasing the risk that they will be left without agreement on the future relationship.
5.The United Kingdom and the rest of Europe are geographically, economically and culturally intertwined. The EU contains the UK’s closest allies, and is its most important economic partner; nor can the EU afford to overlook a key neighbour and ally, with a population of more than 60 million. Yet time is running out, and the two sides now urgently need to focus on the potential benefits of a close, lasting partnership. Achieving such benefits will require compromises—but these will be well worth it if they contribute to increased prosperity across Europe, to continuing cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and to the maintenance of political stability in Northern Ireland.
6.This report seeks to identify both the high-level benefits that could derive from the new relationship, and the associated compromises. It draws on the positions adopted thus far by the Government (chiefly in the form of the Prime Minister’s speeches), the European Council (in its March guidelines) and the European Parliament (in its March resolution). It is thus no more than a snapshot, and we are conscious that the publication by the Government of a White Paper on future relations with the EU may take the debate beyond some of our initial findings. But given the uncertainty over when this White Paper will appear, we have decided to take this opportunity to identify the key principles that we believe should underpin the Government’s approach to the negotiations. Once the White Paper has been published, we shall test it against those principles.
7.This report is the outcome of a short inquiry undertaken by the European Union Select Committee.
8.Chapter 2 compares the objectives set out in public statements by the two sides, and their respective ‘red lines’. Chapter 3 looks in more depth at the benefits sought by the two sides, while Chapter 4 considers the institutional and legal structures within which they could be delivered. Chapter 5 looks at the negotiations themselves, and the process by which the UK and the EU, in the limited time available, could achieve a successful outcome.
9.We make this report to the House for debate.
1 The terms of the question are set out in the European Union Referendum Act 2015, .
2 The ‘remain’ option was predicated upon implementation of the ‘New settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union’, adopted by the European Council in February 2016; this agreement lapsed following the referendum result, (, 23 February 2016).
3 Treaty on European Union, (consolidated version of 26 October 2012)