In a referendum held on June 23rd, voters in the UK and Gibraltar voted by 51.9% to 48.1% (on a 72.2% turnout) to leave the European Union. Although the referendum was purely advisory, the UK government is now committed to negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
The rules that apply when a country wishes to leave the EU are set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This requires the UK to give notice of its intention to leave, and (unless an extension is agreed) specifies that an agreement with the EU on the terms of its withdrawal has to be concluded within two years.
The UK government is expected to give notice of its intention to leave in early 2017. It has said it will do so by using the powers of the Royal Prerogative, which gives the government the ability to take executive action without seeking Parliament’s approval. A new government department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, has primary responsibility for overseeing the negotiations with the EU.
The UK government has promised to consult the devolved administrations during the course of the Article 50 negotiations. A majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and the Scottish Government, in particular, has raised the prospect of holding a second referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent state that could then maintain Scotland’s membership of the EU.