In order to help you decide which way to vote in the forthcoming referendum, our case of the week relates to answering a number of questions relating to the legal mechanisms for withdrawing from the EU.

Where are we now? 

We are a special member of the EU in that we have full access to the Single Market and a full say in the decision making process, but have opted out of the Euro  and the Banking Union. We have opted out of the Schengen border free area, and can opt out of any rules on Justice and Home Affairs. We have just been granted a new settlement whereby we can put rules in place regarding access to benefits to newly arrived EU workers. We have also opted out of “ever closer union.” We therefore have an unique membership of the EU, in that we are a member but have opted out of some of the benefits or burdens of membership.

How does the UK leave the EU? 

Under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union a member state has to negotiate withdrawal of the EU with the remaining members. If there is no negotiated agreement to leave then membership ends automatically after two years. The UK could have individual bilateral agreements with 27 member states but that would depend on whether member states are willing to engage on an individual rather than collective EU level.

What about our obligations whilst negotiations are ongoing? 

Our obligations would continue although an UK Parliament could decide to abrogate our obligations in full or in part.

What would a negotiated deal post exit  look like? 

There seems to be 3 broad options as advanced in the White Paper on options post exit:

Option 1: Just be a member of the European Economic Area [EEA] like Norway or EFTA like Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. We would still have to allow free movement of people and would still have to contribute to the EU budget. We would have considerable access to the single market in all areas except agriculture and fisheries.

Option 2: Negotiate bilateral agreements with the EU which Canada has done. That negotiated agreement has taken 7 years to conclude. It is not yet signed. The Canada agreement allows limited access to the Single Market. Canada has to comply with EU rules when exporting to the EU.

Option 3: If no agreements  are reached then the default position is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. We are a member of the WTO and would trade with the EU in accordance with WTO rules.

Summary of options