To my utter dismay, the people of the UK have decided to leave the EU (commonly known as ‘Brexit’). But this process won’t happen overnight, as the leaders of the UK and the EU will need time to determine how to execute Brexit. When will Britain leave the EU?
The UK held a referendum on whether to remain a member of the EU on Thursday 23rd June. Before the vote, the question on everyone’s lips was whether our country would “remain a member of the European Union” or “leave the European Union.” In the run-up to the referendum, the Remain and Leave campaigns were neck-and-neck in public opinion polls, indicating that it would be a very tight race.
The UK chose to leave the EU. The BBC reports that British voters backed the Leave campaign at a ratio of 52% to 48%. The effect of this decision has been catastrophic. After the news was announced, the value of the British Pound sunk to its lowest level since 1985 and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who backed the Remain campaign, stated that he will resign in October 2016.
Activating Article 50
So when will the UK actually cease being an EU member? To answer this question we need to turn to the European Union Referendum Act 2015, the legislation which paved the way for this landmark vote. The Act leaves it up to the government to decide when to activate Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. This is the provision that allows a county to notify the EU of their intention to leave.
Once Article 50 is activated, the UK will have two years to extricate itself from the EU. It is also important to note that once Article 50 has been invoked, the UK cannot re-join the EU without gaining the consent of all existing member states. During these two years, the UK will need to negotiate a new trading relationship with the EU, in order to minimise the damage to its economy.
Leaving the EU
Theoretically, this mean that the UK could leave the EU as soon as June 2018. But it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to activate Article 50. Cameron previously said that he would do so immediately in the eventuality of a Leave triumph at the polls. However prominent Conservative Party Leave campaigners such as former London Mayor Boris Johnson have argued that the UK should not rush to exit the EU, so that the government can negotiate the best possible trade agreement.
Johnson and other prominent Leavers such as Justice Secretary of State Michael Gove have suggested that the UK should not leave the EU until 2020, the year of the next general election. The Telegraph writes that EU leaders claim that the process of negotiating a new trade agreement could take five years, delaying Brexit further. This is because business leaders want good terms but EU political heads will probably want to impose harsh terms on the UK, to prevent further secessions from the Union.
Finally, we need to consider whether Cameron will fulfil his promise to enact Article 50, now that he plans to resign at the Conservative Party Conference this October. A BBC report states that Cameron has announced that he will leave it to his to successor to decide when to activate Article 50, delaying Brexit to October 2018 at the very least. Whether Cameron will stick to this pledge, only time will tell.
Establishing a time line
In other words, at this point we don’t know exactly when Britain will leave the EU. It is clear, however, that the UK will no longer be a member of the organisation by the time the next national general election rolls around in 2020. I have no idea what this nation will look like by the time we reach 2020.