Warning that it could take years for the UK to leave the EU if the country votes for Brexit
Next month you will have the chance to vote for the UK to stay in or leave the European Union – but what happens if the country backs Brexit?
A cross-party report warns that negotiating a withdrawal would be a “complex and daunting task”. It points out that major trade deals have taken up to nine years to complete.
The House of Lords EU committee also flags up the challenge of establishing rights for around two million UK citizens who live in the European Union. But it also adds there is nothing to stop a country abandoning the withdrawal process, although it adds such a “change of mind” would have “substantial” political consequences.
Here are some of the key findings:
Exit negotiations would be lengthy
When a country votes to leave the EU the clock starts ticking. Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union puts a two-year limit on negotiations unless the European Council, together with the member states, “unanimously decides to extend this period”.
The Lords report states that reaching a negotiated settlement will “almost certainly necessitate extending the negotiating period beyond the two years”. It notes that “trade deals between the EU and non-EU States have taken between four and nine years on average”.
What happens if the EU won’t extend negotiations?
The Lords report warns of a grim scenario with tariffs slapped on our goods: “Were no extension to be agreed, the UK would be likely to trade on World Trade Organization terms, placing tariffs on imports from the EU; the EU would place tariffs on imports from the UK; and the acquired rights of millions of individuals and companies would remain unresolved.”
Intense negotiations await if the UK votes to leave the EU
What about Brits living in the EU?
The peers warn that one of the “most important aspects of the withdrawal negotiations” would be “determining the acquired rights of the two million or so UK citizens” living in member states. The rights of EU citizens living in the UK would also have to be established.
Every single EU law applying in the UK would need to be analysed
The committee warns: “Domestic disentanglement from EU law would require a review of the entire corpus of EU law as it applies nationally and in the devolved nations. Such a review would take years to complete.”
What say should the Assembly have in the process?
The peers write: “We note that the European Communities Act is also entrenched in the devolution settlements of Wales and Northern Ireland. Though we have taken no evidence on this specific point, we have no reason to believe that the requirement for legislative consent for its repeal would not apply to all the devolved nations.”
There should be a much bigger role for the UK Parliament
The report states: “Should the UK decide to withdraw from the EU, the UK Parliament should have enhanced oversight of the negotiations on the withdrawal and the new relationship, beyond existing ratification procedures.”
The UK’s “credibility” in the EU would be “severely undermined”.
Could the UK take up the Presidency of the EU in the second half of 2017? The UK would be disqualified “from chairing any Council meetings on the withdrawal negotiations”.
Related: The left-wing case for Brexit
Would the European Parliament veto a Brexit deal?
The authors warn that the “European Parliament would have the right to withhold giving consent to the adoption of the agreement on the new relationship, giving it considerable influence.”
They also note that groups of member states could veto aspects of any agreement, which could mean “that nothing would be agreed until everything was agreed.”
Could the European Parliament thwart a Brexit deal?
A decision to leave the EU can be reversed
The committee heard evidence that “a Member State could legally reverse a decision to withdraw from the EU at any point before the date on which the withdrawal agreement took effect”.
‘This is complex stuff’
Lord Boswell, chairman of the EU Committee, said: “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.”
However, Ukip’s Lord Pearson of Rannoch said: “The House of Lords is a very Europhile place. Perhaps two of the 19 members of the EU Select Committee could be described as Eurosceptic, and many of them are amongst the most ardent Europhiliacs in the country.
“Small wonder they have produced such partial nonsense.”