Today the Prime Minister will formally notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU, triggering the start of the formal negotiating period that will lead to Brexit. What will happen once notification has been received?

What next at EU level?

First the European Council – heads of state or government but without the UK – will draw up ‘guidelines’ for the negotiations. We don’t know what exactly these guidelines will consist of, or how they will be adopted. The European Council will meet on 29 April to adopt the guidelines and negotiations will probably start in early May.

We don’t yet know how much information the UK Parliament will get on the process, or how it will scrutinise the negotiations, but the Brexit Secretary, David Davis MP, has said Parliament will get at least as much information as the European Parliament.

The European Parliament (EP) has been drafting its own position on Brexit and will adopt a resolution after the triggering of Article 50. But under Article 50 the EP won’t take part in the negotiations themselves.

The negotiations: how long and what about?

The European Commission negotiator, Michel Barnier, has indicated that he would like to have an exit deal agreed in 18 months or by October 2018. Theresa May is aiming for end of March 2019 – exactly two years from notice of withdrawal.

Under Article 50, the withdrawal agreement must take account of the UK’s ‘future relationship’ with the EU, so a framework for that relationship must first exist in order for it to be considered. Some believe this means the ‘divorce’ and the future relationship will be discussed in parallel.

What role for the European Parliament?

The EP must give its consent by a simple majority to the withdrawal agreement before it can be concluded by the EU Council by a qualified majority. If the EP rejects the withdrawal agreement before the two year period is up, the agreement could be revised. If when the two years are up there is no agreement to extend the negotiations, then, according to Article 50, the UK may have to leave without an agreement.

Will the UK Parliament approve the deal?

The Government has promised a parliamentary vote on the outcome of the negotiations, but an Act of Parliament will probably not be required.

The withdrawal agreement will probably need to be ratified by the UK. If there was a parliamentary vote against ratification under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, then that could delay approval.

What if there’s no withdrawal agreement?

If no agreement has been reached by the end of the two year period, all the other 27 Member States could agree unanimously to extend the negotiations and an agreement could be concluded later.

If an agreement is reached that all parties like, the UK could leave within two years. We don’t know whether Member States will have to ratify the agreement – Article 50 doesn’t specify this – but it might be necessary under international or domestic legal norms. This poses a potential risk of rejection by other Member States, which could leave the UK with no withdrawal agreement. The implications of ‘no deal’ are difficult to estimate, but they would be serious.

Preparing for Brexit: what is the Government doing?

The Government intends to introduce a Great Repeal Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, by which we joined the then European Economic Community, and provide for EU law to continue in UK law for the time being and if practicable. There are around 19,000 EU acts of one form or another, most of which apply in the UK, and in the coming years the UK Government and Parliament will decide what to do about them: keep, repeal or amend.

The Civil Service is employing more staff and resources in the new Department for International Trade and the Department for Exiting the European Union to help the Government prepare for Brexit. At the end of 2016, DIT’s trade policy team was around 150 staff; this has now increased to 185 and includes policy and country specialists, economic analysts and lawyers. The Department for Exiting the European Union now has more than 300 staff and is supported by 120 UKRep staff based in Brussels.

Reports suggest the Government will introduce a number of other bills to prepare for Brexit, on matters such as immigration, tax, agriculture, trade and customs regimes, fisheries, data protection and sanctions; possibly also EU migrant benefits, reciprocal healthcare arrangements, road freight, nuclear safeguards, emissions trading and the transfer of spending from various EU funds to individual government departments.

And what about the Library?

We will continue to publish impartial, factual briefing on Brexit, the negotiations and the implications that it will have on all key areas of policy in the UK. You can keep up to date with our briefings on this blog, at and by following us @commonslibrary

Photo credit: © European Union 2014 – European Parliament. (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons license)