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Lords say Brexit would take years

If the country votes for Brexit, negotiating a withdrawal from the EU would be a “complex and daunting task”, according to a Lords report out today.

The report, The process of withdrawing from the European Union, finds that negotiating a withdrawal, and a new relationship with the EU, ‘would take several years', noting that trade deals have in the past taken between four and nine years to complete.

The House of Lords EU Committee report also highlights the legal complications that would flow from the need to establish the rights of around two million UK citizens living in the EU, and of a similar number of EU citizens living in the UK.

In terms of the key players in the negotiating process, the Committee concludes that Member States would retain significant control over the negotiations themselves, while the European Parliament, which could ultimately veto both the withdrawal treaty and a separate treaty establishing a new relationship, would also have considerable influence.

The Committee says it is vital that the UK Parliament should be given “enhanced oversight” during any negotiations.
Lord Boswell, Chairman of the EU Committee, said:

“The Committee wanted to examine the processes, legal, practical and political, of leaving the EU, should the UK vote to end its membership on 23 June.

“We don't take a view on whether the UK should leave the EU or not. But it is clear that if that's what people decide, withdrawal would mean difficult and lengthy negotiations. It's not possible to predict exactly how long it would take, but comparable international trade deals have taken on average between four and nine years.

“The rights of some two million UK citizens living abroad would need to be determined, as would the rights of a similar number of EU citizens living in the UK. This is complex stuff – you are talking about rights to residence, to healthcare and to schooling, about maintenance payments and access to children, about research projects and contracts that cross borders. As we say in the report, sorting all this out would be a daunting task.

“Extricating ourselves from the EU would also involve untangling a Gordian knot of EU laws. You can't just cut through them – practically every one of the thousands of EU laws that apply in the UK would need to be reviewed, and then assessed on its merits, before the Government would decide whether or not to leave it on the statute book.”

Key findings

Negotiations would be lengthy, needing to cover not only how the UK leaves the EU, but also the UK's new relationship with the European Union. While no exact precedent exists, the report points out that comparable trade deals between the EU and non-EU states have taken between four and nine years.

Negotiations would need to cover the acquired rights of some two million UK citizens abroad and how they would be established. The report found that determining these rights, and likewise those of citizens from other EU countries in the UK, would be a “complex and daunting task”.

The Committee considered how EU legislation currently in force in the UK would be assessed. The report finds that every single EU law applying in the UK would need to be analysed on its merits, an exercise that would take years to complete.

The report finds that the credibility of the UK within the EU, while these negotiations were ongoing, would be “severely undermined”, and suggests that in the event of a vote to leave the EU the UK should consider alternatives to the UK's Presidency of the EU, which is scheduled for the second half of 2017.

The Committee found that Member States would be the key players throughout the negotiations, and that the European Parliament's power to veto the withdrawal agreement and any agreement of the UK's future relationship with the EU, would give it significant influence.

In terms of the process for leaving, the report concludes that Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union is the only method of withdrawal consistent with EU and international law.

  • Since publication of the Committee's report, it has been brought to our attention that the figure of 2 million UK citizens living in the EU, which was used in evidence to the Committee, and which was also used by the Government in its report on The Process for Withdrawing from the European Union, is inaccurate. Current estimates in fact put the figure at around 1.2 million.”

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