Which Options Would Be Available to the United Kingdom in Case of a Withdrawal from the EU?

CSF-SSSUP Working Paper No 1/2015

25 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2015 Last revised: 6 Aug 2015

Date Written: July 22, 2015


Before the 8th of May 2015 parliamentary elections, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced the holding of a referendum on the United Kingdom (UK)'s membership of the European Union (EU) to be held before the end of 2017, should his political party remain in power. As the elections gave a majority in the House of Commons to the Conservative Party, Mr. Cameron confirmed that the referendum will be organised. At the date of writing, the Government's bill has already been approved and the question proposed to the Parliament is: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" Moreover, the referendum could take place earlier than planned, possibly before the summer of 2016.

Paradoxically, the risk of a withdrawal is appearing at a time when the EU has been pushed by its Member States to evolve in directions which correspond to many of the European policy's objectives of the UK: the EU has been enlarged to many new Member States, without much strengthening of its institutions; there is more flexibility for Member States to participate or not in some policies; in particular, the UK managed to keep access to the internal market, despite getting several permanent opt-outs on other major policies (the euro, Schengen, criminal justice and police cooperation); national control of the Member States on foreign and defence policies has been carefully preserved; the UK has been able to keep (with others) its budget rebate; the EU is liberalising external trade; the Commission and the Council control the respect of the principle of subsidiarity better than they did in the past; finally, the Lisbon Treaty, which does not contain any federalist symbol, "even marks a halt to the hopes of the "federalists," and gives some powers to national Parliaments.

These results have not been reached only because of the UK, but the UK has certainly been, in particular because of the high quality of the British diplomats and senior civil servants, a very influential Member State in shaping the EU as it is today.

Thus, the possibility that the UK might withdraw from the EU, after more than 40 years of membership, still looks unreal to many people, but it has become less unrealistic.

Keywords: Brexit, UK, EU, Referendum, EU law

Suggested Citation

Piris, Jean-Claude, Which Options Would Be Available to the United Kingdom in Case of a Withdrawal from the EU? (July 22, 2015). CSF-SSSUP Working Paper No 1/2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2634655

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