Brexit: The UK’s Referendum on EU Membership

Five key questions on the United Kingdom’s EU membership referendum

Negotiations concerning the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union began on 19 June 2017 after British Prime Minister Theresa May sent European Council President Donald Tusk a letter on March 29 notifying the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and resulting from the choice made by the British people in the referendum of 23 June 2016.

1) What are the consequences as of now for EU and UK nationals?

Until the effective withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (scheduled for 30 March 2019 at the latest unless the European Council unanimously decides to extend the negotiation), and pursuant to the treaties that it has ratified, European Union law will continue to fully apply.

Does it affect the right of French citizens to travel and move to the UK?

France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has posted a travel advisory explaining that, until the UK leaves the EU, the result of the referendum of 23 June and the triggering of Article 50 do not change the current entry and stay conditions for French nationals in the UK (a valid passport or national identity card).

Does it affect medical care for French nationals in the UK and for UK nationals in France?

No. Until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, French nationals residing in the UK and British nationals residing in France will continue to have access to state-provided medical care. Similarly, French and British nationals visiting the other country will continue to benefit from coverage of costs of state-provided medical care under the European Health Insurance Card.

How will British students in France and French students in the UK be affected?

Until the actual day the UK leaves the EU, nothing will change for British students enrolled at French higher education or research institutions or for French students enrolled at British institutions. Higher education qualifications are recognised within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) initiated by the Bologna Process. Therefore the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU does not affect the rules defined within that framework, unless the UK elects to withdraw from that area, which extends beyond the European Union and covers 46 countries.

2) What is the procedure laid down in the treaties for enacting the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union?

Since the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union allows a Member State to withdraw unilaterally from the EU.

The procedure is as follows:

  • The Member State must notify the European Council of its decision to withdraw. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, on 29 March 2017 notifying the Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union.
  • Following the United Kingdom’s notice, the Heads of State or Government of the 27 Member States will meet to adopt guidelines that will set out the European Union’s negotiating principles at a Special European Council meeting on 29 April 2017.

Within that framework, the European Union subsequently adopted a decision authorising the opening of negotiations, as well as negotiation directives, and designated the Commission as the Union negotiator.

  • On 19 June 2017, negotiations began between the European Union and the United Kingdom in order to reach an agreement setting forth the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal. That is the only purpose of the process opened by Article 50 TEU.
  • Special provisions have been introduced to ensure that each of the EU institutions fully plays a role. In particular, it is expected that the Union’s Chief Negotiator (Michel Barnier) reports systematically to the European Commission, the Council and its preparatory bodies. The European Parliament will be kept regularly and closely informed of progress in the negotiations.
  • The withdrawal agreement must be concluded on behalf of the EU by the Council of the European Union, ruling by qualified majority after approval by the European Parliament.

In accordance with Article 50 TEU, representatives of the State involved in the withdrawal procedure are not entitled to participate in the Council’s internal negotiations about the withdrawal agreement.

If no agreement is reached after two years (the 30 March 2019, at midnight) the treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom, unless the European Council decides to extend that period (voting unanimously and in agreement with the British Government).

Moreover, according to Article 50, if a State that has withdrawn asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the same accession procedure as any other candidate country, not a simplified procedure.

  • As sufficient progress has been observed in the first phase concerning the priority issues of the withdrawal, the European Council meeting of 15 December 2017 authorized the opening of negotiations to define the framework of future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Indeed, the withdrawal negotiations are conducted “taking account of the framework for [the United Kingdom’s] future relationship with the Union”. The EU and the UK will therefore have to draw up a shared overall vision for the framework of their future relations, which will be set out in a political declaration accompanying the withdrawal agreement. However, the provisions that will define these future relations per se will be contained in a distinct agreement, on the basis of the treaty provisions on the international agreements that the EU can conclude with third countries (Article 216 et seq. of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

3) What are France’s main negotiating positions?

France’s position is that expressed by the European Council in its guidelines of 29 April and by the Council in its negotiating directives of 22 May. (Also see the communication to the Council of Ministers of 30 March 2017, French).

At the national level, the French Government has prepared itself for the negotiations. The Secretariat-General of European Affairs has mapped France’s interests in the negotiations on withdrawal and on the framework for the future relationship. The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has appointed a dedicated task force, overseen by the European Union Directorate.

4) What lies ahead for Europe after the UK referendum?

The main challenge for Europe at the moment is to give fresh impetus to the European Union. This process is now underway.

After adopting the Bratislava roadmap in September 2016, which produced achievements in several areas, the leaders of the 27 Member States adopted, on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017, a declaration reaffirming the unwavering unity of the 27 Member States and giving a direction to the European project for the next decade. In this context, reflection on the future of the Union has given rise to many proposals, emerging in particular from the speech on the state of the Union by the President of the European Commission on 13 September, the French President’s speech at the Sorbonne University on 26 September, and the Leaders’ Agenda presented by the President of the European Council on 17 October 2017.

France promotes an ambitious vision to renew Europe. We want the European Union to focus on clearly defined strategic priorities to guarantee “European sovereignty”: security and defence, migration issues, foreign policy, ecological transition, the digital sector, economic and monetary power (strengthening the eurozone, enhancing social rights, etc.). Other themes are also seen as necessary to renew Europe, such as culture and knowledge (strengthening multilingualism, creating a network of European universities, fostering mutual recognition of secondary education diplomas) and trade policy. Tangible progress has been achieved in all these areas in recent years. The EU needs to continue this effort in order to show that it is capable of effectively protecting its citizens and providing concrete solutions to address their aspirations and concerns.

To address the challenges the European Union is facing, France wishes to act pragmatically to attain concrete results at the service of its citizens. The President of the French Republic has therefore called for a “Europe that protects” and more generally “a more effective, democratic and political Europe”. It is also in this framework that the President of the French Republic wants to give citizens a forum to express themselves, with the organization of “citizen consultations” in 2018 aimed at identifying the key concerns of European citizens and priorities for action in the coming years.

5) How does the triggering of Article 50 affect France’s relationship with the United Kingdom?

France’s relationship with the United Kingdom is close and longstanding. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, our two countries often share similar approaches within international organisations, notably the UN.

Our bilateral relationship is sustained by frequent contact at every level and by regular meetings, and encompasses every area: the fight against terrorism, defence, civil nuclear energy, the economy, culture, research, space, education, sports, etc.

Will defence agreements between the UK and France remain in place?

Our defence agreements will continue. We are bound to the United Kingdom by ties of cooperation that were deepened by the Lancaster House Agreement in 2010. There has been considerable, tangible progress since that agreement was signed, such as the implementation of a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. We shall continue to cooperate with the UK, the only other nuclear power in Europe, in accordance with the terms of the Lancaster House Agreement.

Will the British voters’ choice have a negative impact on trade between France and the UK?

The UK is France’s fifth-largest export market and eighth-largest supplier, while France is Britain’s fifth-largest customer and fifth-largest supplier. There is every reason for that intense, well-established trade to continue.

When it leaves the European Union, the UK will become a third country. The future of trade relations will depend on the framework of future relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

What might be the consequences on the attractiveness of France?

This move on the part of the Government is part of an overall drive to strengthen France’s attractiveness and competitiveness. On 7 July 2017, the Government announced several measures to strengthen the appeal of the Paris financial centre:

They aim to:

  • Improve tax policy stability and clarity:
  • Make qualified finance professions more competitive in France to develop the French labour market;
  • Showcase the Paris legal centre and our legal expertise;
  • Address the “gold-plating” of European directives and commit to long-term simplification;
  • Develop international education possibilities in the Île-de-France Region;
  • Improve the connection between Paris and the main economic capitals/

All of the ministers are concerned, as are the Ile-de-France Region and the city of Paris.

Will major projects like Hinkley Point still go ahead?

Yes. The investment agreement, which represents a binding commitment to build the two EPR power plants at Hinkley Point, was signed in September 2016. Construction has begun.

Updated: January 2018