The Liverpool View: (There must be) 50 ways to leave the EU


Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Liverpool

“In the event that an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU is held in 2017, and a majority of voters opt to leave, what process would need to be followed to secure the UK’s exit?

The question is more complex than it might seem. To start with, there’s no real precedent. Other than Greenland, no autonomous state has previously left the EU or its forerunners. There’s also disagreement about whether the UK would need to negotiate exit formally and about what sort of relationship it should, or could, aim to have with the remaining member states.

As Paul Simon didn’t quite say, there must be 50 ways to leave the EU.

Just follow the rules, Jules

Formally, for a member state to leave the EU, it needs to follow the process set out in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Under the treaty, voluntary secession is initiated by a member state informing the European Council, which then draws up guidelines for a negotiated withdrawal settlement. Once approved by the European Parliament, the Council has the authority to agree a settlement on a qualified majority basis.

Don’t pay the Bill, Jill

However, an alternative approach has been advocated by some proponents of a UK exit who argue the UK could leave the EU overnight, if necessary. Parliament would repeal the European Communities Act 1972, the government would cease to make payments to the EU, and the UK would no longer be a member of the EU. Could it really be as simple as ripping up the contract and cancel the direct debit? Well, Douglas Carswell MP proposed pretty much exactly this in a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons in October 2012.

The ‘just walk away approach’ would leave parliament with the task on unpicking a vast number of EU Directives embedded in other legislation, as Carswell recognises. It also makes two big assumptions. The first is that the EU could not prevent a UK exit because the UK Parliament is sovereign and Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon is legally meaningless.  In practice, this may turn out to be the case, but dismissing the treaty is unlikely to win the UK any friends.

The second assumption is that unilateral exit would not prejudice any subsequent trade and treaty agreements between the UK and the EU.  Carswell and others argue the UK’s negotiating position would be strong because the EU would be desperately keen to retain Western Europe’s second largest national economy in its free trade area. Whether our former EU partners would be so easily persuaded that the weight of economic pragmatism should trump significant issues of diplomatic principle is, in reality, far from certain.

Get a trade deal, Neil

However the UK’s exit were initiated, agreement of favourable trading terms with the EU would be essential. Half of UK trade is with Europe.

Two countries provide a potential model for a UK outside the EU: Switzerland and Norway. Both are part of the European Free Trade Area. However, the respective bases of their relationship with the EU are quite different. Switzerland has the looser arrangement, based on bilateral agreements, but is still subject to many EU regulations.

Norway, as part of the European Economic Area has a closer relationship with the EU. In return it makes financial contributions to the EU and must conform to the great majority of its regulations while having no say in determining them. British Eurosceptics may want to be careful what they wish for.

Catch lots of fish, Trish

And what of the one country that did leave? After securing home rule from Denmark in 1979, Greenlanders voted narrowly in favour of leaving what was then the EEC in 1982. The Greenland Treaty, which came into force in 1985, agreed the terms of Greenland’s exit. To this day, Greenland retains generous quotas for the export of fish to the EU and receives €25 million per annum in EU grants. Greenland’s Prime Minister reports that life is good outside the EU but also admits “We don’t export anything else but the fish”.

There may well be 50 ways to leave the EU. Whether the UK would ultimately find any of them to its liking is quite another matter.”


3 thoughts on “The Liverpool View: (There must be) 50 ways to leave the EU

  1. Olivier Sykes

    The good news for Colin Johnson is that he is free to leave the EU any time he likes. Perhaps he would like to head to another part of the world where the rule of law, human rights, social rights, the environment and international peace are as securely protected. There are plenty of international flights from UK airports to such places. There are also flights to a host of places where the conditions described above do not obtain… However with the level of credulity in the face of political propaganda that Mr. Johnson displays above he can probably persuade himself that things really are more rosy in such locations than life under the ‘EU shackles’ he refers to above. Perhaps Scotland would be a good choice (no need even to board a plane), though perhaps that is not the best idea for those prone to believing UKIP-style spin ( .

    1. Colin Johnson

      Well Olivier Sykes what can I say of your reply, I am shocked and stunned in equal measure to your personal attack on me for my comments to this article. I simply responded, as I thought I was both entitled to and the article inferred that I could by being published on our staff intranet, quite clearly indicating that it was my personal opinion on the matter of reasons for leaving the EU however your contribution to the subject neither justified our continuing membership of the EU nor negated my own thoughts on the valid reasons for immediate exit but instead you tried to trivialise the worth of my opinion and recommended my exit from the country I was born and bred in, contributed positively to in my own small way for 59 years 43 of which I have contributed financially through taxes and other levies to maintain the systems of support both financial and health wise should I or others have need of them and been subject to the rule of just law and order; all these things where in place and operating for and by the democratic will of the people of Great Britain PRIOR TO and without the need or interference of the EU.
      Reading your reply it appears clear to me you are of the opinion it’s “the EU way or no way”, with that attitude you should guarantee yourself a place in the EU political structure.
      Of your beloved EU we now suffer more and more interference on how we live our lives with apparently little or no democratic input from the people of Great Britain, the promised vote on EU membership by Mr. Cameron in 2017 (courtesy of pressure brought to bare by voters choosing to go over to UKIP) when last I checked will only be a vote for MPs therefore the Europhiles still deny the British public democracy. We also through the EUHR act now have a charter which allows undesirables, criminals and terrorists safe haven in our country; the uncontrolled immigration of nationalities who are only intent on draining the very systems, which I and other tax payers have helped to maintain, to the point of collapse or bancruptcy without ever contributing a single euro or a minute of honest labour.
      I noticed you conveniently forgot to mention your own vocational and no doubt financial benefits of continuing EU membership due in part to your participation in all the EU committees you are fortunate to sit on or advise, perhaps you could use some of this influence to get the EU to sign off it’s accounts for the 1st time in its history.
      If I were you I would be more concerned with the legalised theft from bank accounts in Cyprus, my own finances are only modest and I am sure considerably less than yours, but now that the EU have done this in one member state surely it can be repeated in ALL others and as the EU fantasy with the euro continues its decline who can tell at what point the next theft threshold will be set or in which member state it will apply.

  2. Colin Johnson

    Personaly I would rip up the treaty and walk away, when Britain voted on membership of the EEC we were led to believe it was a trading agreement and not a political domination of our country. All the propaganda at the time only expressed what we would be gaining by membership but conveniently ommitted the cost of membership in financial terms and loss of democratic freedom to an unelected draconian and corrupt authority, as is evident in recent events with the continued collapse of the Euro currency farse and legalised ‘stealing’ from its members bank accounts to prop up an unworkable monetary system. You express concern about new trading agreements because of 50% trade with EU but this is due to 2 factors, 1st we are hindered by EU regulations which restrict our ability and freedom to trade with the rest of the world and 2nd the ‘Rotterdam’ effect which is the manipulation of statistics wereby our exports to the rest of the world have to pass through Rotterdam and the EU conveniently classes this as EU trade which it isn’t really but simply passing through the port. We continue to be ‘Hog tied’ by regulations while a member of the EU, what we need is a return to self determination and freedom from the EU shackles; a lot is made of ‘being in the EU to have a say in the EU’ this argument holds no water as we will always be out voted by the Franco/German pact who don’t like to admit that this little island of ours is so often right in its criticism of the EU. £53 million+ a DAY for membership of the EU is too much and really the only reason europe wants us except of course for stripping our seas of fish stocks and America advises us to stay in Europe because they hope to keep their ‘finger’ in the EU pie by controlling our weak government. My greatest fear of continuing EU membership is that we will collapse under the uncontrolled immigation burdening our systems and the continued reliance on EU that is being manufactured by our europhile government, i.e. weakening the army to unsustainable size so we have to join the euroarmy, destroying our industrial base so we have to rely on imported engineering. I will have to stop now my fingers are tired and there is so many reasons for leaving the EU you don’t even have to dig that deep to find them, please help yourselves and I am confident you will join me and the ever growing numbers who want to leave the EU, not in 2017 but a.s.a.p..

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