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How to Leave the European Union

British citizens voted Thursday on whether to leave the European Union. There are steps outlined for members wishing to withdraw from the bloc, but no country has ever left, so the process is uncertain.

First, Britain tells the European Council it wants to exit.

The basic steps of the withdrawal process are described in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. It officially begins when the European Council is notified. One government leader (such as a prime minister, president or chancellor) from each of the 28 member countries is in the European Council. The group also includes its own president.

Article 50 does not say when this notification should take place, and it is unclear how soon Britain will start the exiting process. In a speech this year to the House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron said that "the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away." Many expect Mr. Cameron, who supported the campaign to remain in the union, to resign.

Next, Britain and the E.U. negotiate the terms of the separation.

During this time, Britain is still subject to all rules and regular activity of the European Union. However, British representatives to the European Council are not supposed to participate in conversations or voting related to the withdrawal.

Finally, both sides approve the terms.

Two European Union lawmaking bodies, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, must vote.

The European Parliament, which has more than 700 elected members from across the bloc, would need to approve the agreement with a majority vote. It is unclear whether British members would be allowed to vote.

The Council of the European Union is comprised of representatives from each country, but does not have a set list of members. Ministers from each country attend Council meetings based on the policy area being addressed. It would need a "qualified majority" to approve the agreement. In this instance, that would mean 20 of the 27 members (excluding Britain) voting in favor.

Article 50 does not specify how a withdrawing country should approve the agreement, but a House of Commons briefing suggests the British government would bring the agreement to the British Parliament before it could be ratified.

Britain and the E.U. have two years to get all of this done.

The process has a two-year time limit, which starts as soon as the European Council is notified. This deadline can be extended, but only with the unanimous agreement of the European Council.

When time is up, Britain will no longer be a member of the European Union, even if an agreement has not been reached.

Britain would lose the benefits and responsibilities of membership, including free trade and the free movement of people throughout the bloc. If no separate trade arrangements had been made, trading with European Union countries could be more expensive.

[Source: By Jasmine C. Lee, International New York Times, European Union, European Parliament, United Kingdom Cabinet Office, British Parliament, London, 24Jun16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 27Jun16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.