What options are left for the United Kingdom

51, 9% of the British population decided against remaining in the European Union in a referendum that was held on 23 June, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or stay in the EU. The referendum turnout was 71, 8%, with more than 30 million people voting. Thus Great Britain made use of Article 50 (1) that states that “any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” Main arguments for the British include, inter alia, high contributions to Brussels that the British population would be spared from, detachment from EU regulations that were perceived as too strict and fear of uncontrolled immigration that would lead to an increased unemployment rate.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May therefore officially announced Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on 27 March, 2017 in front of the European Council. From this moment on, the negotiations on the withdrawal agreement started. The EU 27 already emphasised in advance that if Great Britain wants access to the single market for goods it must accept the free movement of capital, services and persons as well. Another crucial condition was to prevent a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland in order to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

Ultimately the EU and Theresa May agreed on a deal in November 2018 that includes, among other things, a transition period that comes into force after the official leaving date and that should last until the end of 2020. This transition period might be extended under certain conditions. In addition the agreement contains regulations concerning all outstanding payments to the EU as well as the so-called “Backstop”, a fall-back solution that allows the United Kingdom to remain in a customs union with the EU. A majority of the British MPs however weren’t in favour of the deal. They mainly object against i.a. the Backstop that would prevent the UK’s definite detachment from the EU and the impossibility for the UK to conclude international trade agreements since the UK would still have to follow certain EU regulations. On the question, presented i.a by the Sottish civil court, of whether the UK could unilaterally decide to revoke the decision to leave the EU, the European Court of Justice ruled that Great Britain can cancel Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members. Nevertheless Theresa May declared that the UK would not go back on its decision.

Now the House of Commons has to vote on the deal on 15 January, 2019. If the deal were accepted, a coordinated withdrawal would take place. Will the deal however be rejected, a plan B on how Theresa May intends to proceed must be presented within three days. In case of a “No-Deal”, Great Britain would have to leave the EU without any legal certainty, a “hard” Brexit that would lead to unforeseeable consequences. Another option pursuant to Article 50 from the EU Treaty would be to postpone Brexit to give time for new elections or a new process for leaving the EU. A second referendum could be possible with a new government. Theresa May, however, has already excluded a second referendum. A rather improbable scenario would be renegotiating the deal with the EU, if the other member states accepted this undertaking. Finally it remains to be seen how the result of the vote will turn out.