Article 50: What Happens Next?

In a historic moment Theresa May triggered Article 50 which marks the beginning of negotiations for the exit of the UK from the EU. The UK has been a member of the EU since 1973 which is a 44 year relationship that will need to be untangled. Abba summed it up when they sang ‘Breaking up is never easy’ and this break up is expected to take at least 2 years.

Article 50 already provides for the negotiations being extended beyond that period if all countries were to unanimously agree. Yet of course it would seem in the interests of all parties to break off the relationship as quickly as feasibly possible, without undermining the result. Over the coming months you will undoubtedly become quite familiar with the name Michel Barnier as he is the appointed chief negotiator for Europe. At the helm for the UK is David Davis – the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

Dealing with the unknown

One of the biggest concerns of individuals and businesses, is what will happen to Brits living in the EU and what will happen to EU citizens who live and work in Britain. In fact, 5% of the UK population is accounted for by EU citizens; that is 3.2 million people. Whilst 5% might not seem like a big number, there are marked concentrations of EU citizens in certain industries. It is understood that securing the rights of those from the EU living in the UK will be high on the agenda, and this is absolutely important for both sides of the negotiating table in ensuring stability.

British newspaper frontpages following Brexit vote result article 50

There are of course more problematic aspects of individuals having the right to work – these will extend to provision of healthcare, pensions, welfare and so on. It will undoubtedly be these factors that will make negotiations more protracted and arduous for both sides. As with any negotiation for each issue there will be a series of key points which need to be agreed – in a chess analogy these are the king, queen, rooks, bishops, and knights. The king represents the most crucial point of whether people can stay or if they must leave. Thereafter, pension, healthcare, housing and so on would be represented by those other pieces. But coming up the rear are an abundance of pawns and these represent a large number of points which might be the agency work regulations, working time directive, etc. Can you see how complex and time consuming these discussions will be?

What if we change our mind?

There is not a straightforward answer to this question as Article 50 is not clear on this issue and furthermore there is no precedence as nobody has ever triggered it before. Certainly the UK government would appear to view this as an irrevocable move, but the reality is that the EU members would likely entertain a conversation for the UK to stay.

In Summary

From an employment perspective, the most obvious consideration by UK businesses will be the ongoing status of EU citizens that they employ. Thereafter, there are an abundance of employment issues that are currently governed by EU law, which will undoubtedly change – for better or worse. It is a period of uncertainty and it will be interesting to see how businesses react over the coming months with respect to their recruitment procedures.

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