How to Leave the European Union

epaselect epa05383312 A British flag along with other flags of European Union member countries flies in front of the European Council building in Strasbourg, France, 22 June 2016. Reports on 21 June citing a survey indicated that 45 per cent of the voters are inclined towards staying within the EU, while 44 percent are pro-Brexit, ahead of the referendum in Britain on 23 June 2016. EPA/PATRICK SEEGER NYTCREDIT: Patrick Seeger/European Pressphoto Agency

epaselect epa05383312 A British flag along with other flags of European Union member countries flies in front of the European Council building in Strasbourg, France, 22 June 2016. Reports on 21 June citing a survey indicated that 45 per cent of the voters are inclined towards staying within the EU, while 44 percent are pro-Brexit, ahead of the referendum in Britain on 23 June 2016.  EPA/PATRICK SEEGER           NYTCREDIT: Patrick Seeger/European Pressphoto Agency

British citizens voted Thursday 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 inArticle 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.” Mr. Cameron, who supported the campaign to remain in the union, said he will resign in October.

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.

European Parliament

675

73

Non-British members

British members

As of June 23, 2016

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.

Council of the European Union

British representative

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.

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