Prior to the Lisbon Treaty there was no mechanism for a member state to leave the EU. That was in itself a threat since any country wishing to do so merely had to invoke their sovereign right to tear up the Treaty and walk away. The EU realised that it needed to construct a mechanism to prevent this happening. That mechanism is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Under Article 50 a Member State has to notify the European Council of its intention to leave, and the Union shall then negotiate an agreement with that state setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal. These ‘negotiations’ shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council acting on a qualified majority vote, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
The Member State in question shall not participate in the Council’s discussions on its own future. This whole process will take a minimum of two years, and failing an agreement it can be extended, perhaps indefinitely. In theory the negotiations can go on for years or decades, and throughout that time, we remain a member of the EU with all its obligations and subject to EU law.
The mechanics of leaving are convoluted enough, but now imagine the politics. For a minimum of two solid years we will have the BBC, other sections of the media, the political establishment, and possibly even the President of the United States, telling us that Britain cannot survive outside of the EU.
The representatives of international vested interests will try to scare the British public into believing that EU exit will result in the loss of trade and jobs and calamities of all sorts. How would a Prime Minister hold his nerve under this kind of fire, especially one that does not believe in exit in the first place?
So how can we leave? The actual mechanics of doing so are quite straightforward. Britain is a member of the EU by means of the European Communities Act 1972. This is what gives ‘supremacy’ to EU law. To leave we just have to repeal the Act. This is perfectly legal under English constitutional law and international law. The EU Treaty will then be just another of many consigned to the scrapheap of history.
Britain can then unilaterally discontinue all payments to the EU budget with immediate effect. We can reclaim our seat on the World Trade Organisation, and regain control of our trade policy; not to mention our borders and immigration policy, and a host of other policy areas now under the control of the EU.
There will be no loss of jobs or trade because the EU sells us far more than we sell them, and they wish to go on selling to us; and it any case putting up discriminatory barriers would be against binding WTO rules. Britain would be in a strong position to agree a trade deal with the EU, but this must be a consequence of leaving not a condition.
The biggest problem to address will be the tens of thousands of EU laws in place. Parliament can at its leisure repeal all of those Directives enacted into Acts of Parliament, and replace them with national legislation where it felt it necessary.
There could be a transitional period where some EU regulations would still apply, but they would have no supremacy over national law. Any future legislation that might be required to enable us to interact with the EU (if it continues to exist) would be by means of Acts of Parliament under the sovereign control of Parliament.
It would be a big strategic mistake for the withdrawalists to allow their opponents to define the basis on which Britain can withdraw. Mooted scenarios of duplicating the ‘Norwegian or Swiss model’ or ‘staying in the European Economic Area’ would only deliver partial independence and are dependent on others accepting those options.
In the long months of debate to come the withdrawlists will be asked the question: ‘OK if we vote to leave the EU how can we do it?” We must have a coherent plan that explains exactly how. The only plan that would work and give us real independence is unconditional, unilateral withdrawal.
This article was originally published in the July edition of Brexit, the magazine for the Better Off Out campaign.
Gerard Batten has been a UKIP Member of the European Parliament since 2004 and his book The Road to Freedom (published by Bretwalda Books) explains how Britain can leave the European Union.