The term “Brexit” refers to the referendum held in June 2016 in terms of which the majority of British citizens voted in favour of exiting the European Union (“EU”). The referendum caused the British pound to fall to its lowest level in decades. Although the referendum is not legally binding, it does indicate that the majority of British citizens think that Britain’s economy will be better served by “Brexiting”. Britain has been outperforming the rest of the EU since the 2007 financial crisis. This article shall briefly discuss Brexit, the procedure to exit the EU and the legal repercussions thereof.
In order for Britain to implement the exit from the EU, it will have to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets out the procedure therefor. In terms of article 50, Britain must give formal notice to the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU, after which Britain and the EU shall negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. The negotiation process shall determine Britain’s exit from the various treaties as well as its participation in trade post-Brexit. In order to achieve this, the current treaties will need to be reviewed and new treaties will need to be drafted. It is possible that the new treaties shall be drafted on same or similar terms to the existing treaties, thereby making the exit from the EU merely cosmetic.
In the event that Britain gives notice in terms of article 50, the various treaties shall cease to apply to Britain from the date the withdrawal agreement comes into force or two years after giving notice of withdrawal, unless the parties decide otherwise. If Britain does not follow the procedure set out in article 50, it will be in violation of international law. The consequences of violating international law could be fines or other sanctions.
Theresa May, the current prime minister of Britain who replaced David Cameron after he resigned, states that she will trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March 2017. Although Britain and the EU are large trading partners of South Africa, it is unlikely that South Africa’s trade and economy will be negatively impacted by Brexit. That being said, if Britain does exit the EU, how long before the French pack their bags and decide to “Frexit”?