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  • The triggering of article 50 gives the UK and the European Union (‘EU’) a two-year period to undertake the complex negotiations for Brexit. Until the terms are known, the full ramifications of the ‘leave’ vote are unclear.
  • The impact of Brexit on third countries such as Australia will depend upon the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
  • The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies do not have the legislative power to block the United Kingdom from leaving the EU.

In the British referendum of 23 June 2016 the British public voted to leave the European Union (‘EU’). The result was 52 per cent ‘leave’ to 48 per cent ‘remain’, and a clear simple majority of more than a million votes.

Voting in the UK is not compulsory. The referendum turnout of 72 per cent is considered high compared with general election turnouts. Nevertheless the vote followed a highly divisive campaign and the result has left the UK more divided than ever: geographically, economically and politically.

There have been some calls for a second referendum. The appointment of Theresa May as British Prime Minister and a new Cabinet incorporating key ‘Brexiteers’ in foreign and trade policy portfolios makes this seem unlikely in the short term. The new Prime Minister has reiterated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The way the referendum was carried out, however, means that the ‘leave’ option was not clearly defined ahead of the vote.

Much remains to be determined in negotiation with the remaining EU member states (the ‘EU27’), and importantly, inside the UK itself. The full ramifications of the vote for Brexit will not be clear for months, and perhaps years.

In the first of a series of brief articles, this overview covers key issues relating to the legal steps required of a member state to leave the EU. It addresses first, article 50 and the likely shape of negotiations for Brexit; second, the external dimension including the re-establishment of ties with third countries in areas that have been in the exclusive competence of the European Union institutions; and third, internal issues, notably the legal issues around devolution and the viability of the United Kingdom’s political system.

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