Businesses should plan for the UK to leave the EU despite 'Westminster pantomime'

Late last night MPs voted to take control of the Commons in an attempt to push through a bill that would stop the UK leaving the EU on 31 October 2019 without the same MPs either backing a new deal or agreeing to exit with no deal.

Whilst this has been seen as a blow to the Government, with the media declaring that it is now likely the envisaged bill will pass and that the UK will not leave without a deal on 31 October 2019 - a fundamental point is being missed - that the UK’s membership of the EU will not be decided by domestic UK law, but by EU law (and the relevant treaties).

The UK has been a member of the EU for many years now and the agreement for the UK to initially join and remain in the EU is recorded in (and the terms set out in) the EU treaties.

Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union (TEU) sets out the process for a member state to leave the EU. As we all know too well, that process was triggered some time ago now.

Article 50(3) is the crucial provision in relation to what MPs are currently trying to achieve through domestic UK law. This states:

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 referred to in Paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

So, what the domestic UK law states or may not state after this week does not mean the UK will not drop out of the EU on 31 October 2019 - domestic UK law alone can’t prevent the UK’s departure - that will be governed by EU law and Article 50 of the TEU.

If the expected changes to the domestic UK law are pushed through, the UK will then need to approach the European Council for a further extension - the approval of which would need to be unanimous.

Such unanimous approval is very much up in the air at the moment, with many EU States making it clear there will be no further negotiations and that they have become tired of the ‘Westminster Pantomime’.

Many MP’s appear to be rejoicing this morning and are upbeat about pushing through the bill that would allow them to stop a UK departure without a deal on 31 October - but even if the bill passes - there is still a long way to go for it to have any meaning whatsoever.

Businesses should still ensure they have everything in place and have planned for the UK to leave the EU without a deal at the end of October.

To help with Brexit planning for your business, contact Jonathan Askin at 

Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to clients of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.