On the 23rd June 2016 the United Kingdom (UK) voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union (EU). The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. Whilst the decision has immediate political, social and economic impact, the legal implications will be more gradual and will become evident in time. No Member State has ever opted to leave the EU making these unchartered waters for all concerned.
For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (Treaty). It was not until this Treaty which came into force on 1st December 2009 that EU law dealt directly with the possibility of a Member State withdrawing from the EU by providing a regime for the formal withdrawal of a Member State.
Some of the key areas to which the principal changes are expected to apply are:
– Banking and insurance

– Environment
– Standards in trade

– Merger control
– State Aid

– Pensions
– Competition law

– Contracts
– Rights for businesses and employees

– Litigation

– Intellectual Property

The UK is about to enter into what may be the largest voluntary decoupling in history. Article 50 provides at section 1 that “any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. Even after formal notification is served, Article 50 envisages a two year period for negotiations on withdrawal. As no other Member State has left the EU before, this process may take longer – a longer time can be agreed between the EU and the UK.

In light of the fact that EU law has applied in the UK for 43 years through a combination of European Regulations, EU Directives and substantial case law, unpicking this regime and deciding what to abandon and what to keep will undoubtedly be a colossal undertaking and will be a great challenge for Prime Minister Theresa May.