Britain is leaving the European Union and the treaty agreement that triggers the official departure is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – but how does this work?
Article 50 works a little like a divorce.
The Brexit referendum result has set up the separation procedure, but Britain’s relationship with the EU does not finally end until negotiations with the EU over how the two sides will interact in future are decided.
The negotiations are like a couple who have broken up deciding who gets what out of the former family home.
The problem with Article 50 is the lawmakers who agreed the treaty thought an escape clause would be a good idea, but they never got around to detailing how the separation would really work.
How long does Brexit take?
As no other nation has left the EU, no one is really sure how the negotiations will work or how long they will take.
Article 50 is a five-point plan:
- Any nation can leave the EU
- Any nation withdrawing has to tell the European Council (EC), which triggers negotiations and an agreement about the terms of leaving the EU
- EU rules still apply to the leaving state until agreement is reached or two years after the intention to leave is notified to the EC. The EC can decide to extend the separation period.
- No one from the leaving country can take part in EU decisions once the withdrawal is notified
- A country that has left can rejoin the EU, but that move is subject to further negotiations and unanimous agreement of the rest of the member states
That leaves Britain in the position of EU laws still applying until the final agreement is made.
That’s good news for expats as residence, healthcare and pension rules remain the same during the separation period, which gives them some certainty.
Article 50 and expats
That works both ways. Not only can British expats in Europe continue their lives without any political and financial upheaval, so can European expats in Britain.
However, any new European directives imposed after Article 50 do not apply to Britain.
Other countries in a similar position to Britain are Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
Each of these nations is outside of the EU but has access to the single market, which comprises the 440 million people and businesses within the 27 EU states.
However, to gain this access, they have had to grant freedom of movement to EU citizens and pay a levy to trade within the single market.
Although Britain will be autonomous after Brexit, the risk is having to agree freedom of movement and paying a levy which matches the current payment into EU coffers means little will effectively change.