The Article 50 Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament on 13 March 2017 and received Royal Assent on 16 March 2017. So, the Bill (now the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017) simply gives the Prime Minister parliamentary authority to give notice of withdrawal under Article 50.
The House of Commons rejected the amendments previously agreed to by the House of Lords relating to:
- a guarantee of the rights of EU citizens already resident in the UK; and
- an obligation on the government to obtain the approval of both Houses of Parliament to:
- the terms of the UK's exit treaty with the EU
- the terms of any agreement on the UK's future relationship with the EU; and
- any decision to leave the EU without such an agreement.
The House of Lords then, as is customary, bowed to the will of the Commons and accepted the Bill in its unamended form. So, the Bill (the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill) simply gives the Prime Minister parliamentary authority to give notice of withdrawal under Article 50.
Article 50 notification – the "defining moment" in the Brexit process
The Prime Minister has re-iterated that formal notification of the UK's intention to withdraw from the EU, the "defining moment" in the Brexit process, will be given by the end of March 2017, thus commencing the 2-year period allowed for under Article 50 for the conclusion of an exit treaty setting out the terms of the UK's withdrawal, and an agreement setting out the framework for the UK's future relationship with the EU post-Brexit. For more on the vexed question of the UK/EU trading relationship post-Brexit, see our Q&A on Brexit and the UK's Future Trade with the EU.
The 2-year negotiating period can only be extended with the unanimous approval of all remaining EU member states. Thus, subject to any such extension to the period, or any agreed transitional arrangements, the UK will leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
This is an extremely ambitious timetable for agreement both on the UK's exit arrangements and future UK/EU trade. Both sides have acknowledged that time must be set aside for such agreements to be approved both in Europe and in the UK prior to the exit date, thus curtailing the negotiating period still further. The exit treaty requires the approval of a qualified majority of EU members (72% of EU Council members), but a new trade agreement would require the unanimous agreement of all remaining EU member states.
If there is no such agreement in place, the UK's membership of the EU will cease automatically in March 2019 and WTO rules will apply in default. See our Q&A on Brexit and WTO rules for the implications of such a "hard Brexit" scenario.
You may also be interested in our Q&A on Brexit and Transitional Arrangements, which discusses the potential for transitional arrangements which would mitigate the effects of a hard Brexit.
What happens next?
Once the Article 50 notification has been made, it is expected that the European Council will call an EU summit to agree on, and issue guidelines for the negotiation process.
During the 2-year negotiating period, from a legal perspective, the UK remains a full EU member and bound by applicable EU law and regulation. For our analysis of the impact of Brexit on EU-derived legislation following Brexit, please click here.