Brexit: What’s it all about?

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The dust is just about settling after the political upheaval caused by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in a Referendum on June 23. Having had time to reflect, we think it is now time to gather together the facts and find out how this momentous decision will really affect you, our readers. With the help of legal expert Rob Wilks, we untangle the rhetoric and explain what it really is all about.

This month we present the first of Rob’s three articles about Brexit. Here he looks at how Brexit will be achieved and what problems are likely to be encountered in the coming months and years. Next month he will look at the impact Brexit could have on the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland union and finally, in part 3, he we will look at what Brexit could mean for the Deaf community.


Back in 1975, 67% of the British population voted to join the European Union (EU). In June 2016, 52% voted to reverse that and leave the EU following a heated campaign by Britain Stronger in Europe, headed by David Cameron, and Vote Leave, which was led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

How will the UK leave the EU?

There has been much talk of something called “Article 50”. This is Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union, which provides that: “A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention.”

Thus, the UK has to give notice to the EU that it intends to withdraw from the EU, and thereafter the UK will enter into a period of negotiation with the EU to agree the terms of leaving. In relation to the effect of giving notice, Article 50(2) states that: “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification.”

This means that two years after the UK gives notice, the UK will officially leave the EU, unless as part of the negotiations, the UK and EU agree that the UK will leave sooner. It is possible that an extension beyond two years can be agreed if necessary.

Why hasn’t the Prime Minister given the Article 50 notice yet?

At the moment the new Prime Minster, Theresa May, has made it clear that the Article 50 notice will not be given before the end of 2016. There are many reasons for this:

• Once notice is given, the UK Government and the EU will start negotiating the terms of Brexit. However, the UK Government does not yet know what it wants to achieve at the end of these negotiations, and until that is clear, it is wise not to start the negotiations. Some of the questions the UK Government needs to make a decision about are:

1. Should the UK leave the EU altogether?

2. Would it be better to be the same as Switzerland or Norway, countries that are not part of the EU but have agreed to freedom of movement in return for the freedom of movement of goods?

Freedom of movement

This is one of the founding principles of the EU, whereby citizens of the EU are allowed to move to, live in, and in certain circumstances access the welfare system of the EU country to which they have moved.

3. Is there any alternative to leaving the EU altogether or following the Swiss or Norwegian model?

4. Does the UK still want the freedom to trade goods with the other 22 EU countries?

5. Will the UK ever agree to freedom of movement in order to retain the freedom to trade goods with the EU?

Freedom of movement of goods

This is another one of the founding principles of the EU, whereby goods such as food, technology, manufacturing materials etc. are allowed to be traded across all 23 EU Member States with little or no restrictions.

6. Can the UK agree new trade agreements with individual countries around the world to replace the ones that the EU has negotiated on behalf of all Members States?

7. What does the UK Government want to do about EU nationals who are currently living and working in the UK?

8. What about the rights of UK nationals who are living in other EU countries?

• The Houses of Parliament and the UK Government have to agree how to deal with Brexit from a legal point of view. The UK’s membership of the EU happened because of the European Communities Act 1972, which was amended after the 1975 referendum. Some legal experts argue that in order to leave the EU, apart from giving Article 50 notice, the UK has to repeal the 1972 Act. Only Parliament can do so, but the majority of MPs in the House of Commons, and the majority of Peers in the House of Lords, are all in the Remain camp. Is it realistic to expect these MPs and Peers to vote to repeal the 1972 Act if they are all against leaving the EU?

• Should there be another General Election? If the majority of MPs are in the Remain campaign, do they still have the mandate of their constituencies? It may be necessary to call another General Election so that current MPs can make their positions clear on Brexit, and allow constituency members to vote whether they should be re-elected. Also, the position of the major political parties are now not clear following Brexit: the Conservatives are now leading Brexit, but it is not clear what their policy is in relation to the terms on which the UK should leave the EU; the Labour Party’s position is at yet unknown due to the leadership challenge of Jeremy Corbyn; and the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that they would push to halt Brexit.


All in all, the UK political system is in turmoil as the Prime Minster and the UK Government tries to work out their next step, the Labour Party is dealing with leadership challenges and a potential split, the Houses of Parliament are full of discontented MPs and Peers who do not like the direction the UK is heading towards, the Scottish National Party is calling for independence and Sinn Fein a united Ireland, and Plaid Cymru have put Welsh independence back on the agenda.

Next month, we will look at what impact Brexit is having or may have on the United Kingdom of Great Britain due to Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to Remain in the EU. Are we facing the UK’s greatest constitutional crisis yet?

The European Union of the Deaf reacts to the Brexit vote:

We are very saddened and very much regret the decision (of the British public to leave the EU) as we are deeply concerned that the social position of UK Deaf and hard of hearing people might worsen in the aftermath of “Brexit”: Numerous EU policies have had a positive impact on our lives and reinforced the protection of our rights, such as the EU Employment Directive, the Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act, which is currently being negotiated. It is unclear if the UK Deaf community will be able to (continuously) benefit from these achievements. Furthermore, the fact that UK universities and companies may not be able anymore to benefit from EU funding after having left the Union could have serious consequences for the Deaf and hard of hearing community. 

We very strongly believe that together – with the United Kingdom – we would be in a stronger position to advocate for disability-inclusive policies for Deaf and hard of hearing persons in Europe and thus wish to continue our good cooperation with the British Deaf Association (BDA). This is why we whole-heartedly welcome its intent to continue working with EUD to make sure that the rights of Deaf people are properly heard and protected.

Negotiations with the EU and its remaining member states on the withdrawal will set the way in which the UK will continue its cooperation with the EU. The new status of the UK will also determine the membership of the BDA within EUD, whose membership categories are fixed in its statutes. Until this negotiation process is finalised, the UK will continue to be a member state of the EU and all the legislation that gives effect to EU law will stay in place. This also means that the BDA will continue to be a full member of EUD until then and we hope that we will be able to fully continue our partnership with EUD’s founding member.

Finally, we wish to urge the parties in the UK and the EU that would be involved in these exit negotiations to come to a fair agreement that will not further disadvantage Deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and to consult with the BDA to this regard at all stages of the negotiations.

The EUDY (European Union of the Deaf Youth) released this reaction:

Although the European Union of the Deaf Youth is an apolitical organisation – therefore we will not judge the results of the referendum – we would like to express our worries about the impact this may have on the life of young people, especially those with fewer opportunities, thus the deaf youth in all of the United Kingdom. 

One of our worries is the direct impact on the Deaf youth community that “leave” may have. Right now we know there are countless opportunities that Deaf youth enjoy by being an EU member: the freedom to travel, the freedom to study abroad, the freedom to have a job abroad, the freedom to set up companies and most importantly, the tool to fund those freedoms: the Erasmus+ funding programme of the European Union. 

We call upon every leader involved in the negotiations on Britain’s exit not to punish the British citizens. The European Youth Forum asks them to take the interests of young people – of which a large part voted to remain – into account in the discussions.

Finally, a message to the Deaf Youth community in the United Kingdom: as far as the EUDY board and staff are concerned, nothing will change between the EUDY and the British Deaf Association Youth (BDAY). The United Kingdom remains a member of the Council of Europe, and according to our regulations any member state of the CoE is eligible to become a member of EUDY. Since 2010 we have had the honour of having the United Kingdom as one of our closest cooperation partners and there is no reason that this would change.

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