As the UK referendum on EU membership fast approaches, Euronews spoke to Jean-Claude Piris, Consultant for European Union law and former Director General of European Council Legal Services, to find out what the legal impact of a Brexit would be.
We began by asking him what would be the first political and legal steps taken by the British Prime Minister David Cameron in the event of the British people voting to leave the European Union.
Jean-Claude Piris, Consultant for EU law: Politically nobody knows if Mr. Cameron will stay as Prime Minister or not. If he stays, he will send a letter to Brussels and say that the procedure for withdrawal is launched. But if he does not stay, maybe this letter will wait for the nomination of a new Prime Minister, a few weeks or a few months. So, as soon as we receive a letter from the UK government, the European Council is deciding by unanimity, consensus, on the main guidelines of the “divorce”, the agreement on withdrawal. Then, the Commission will have directors of negotiations and also from the Council of Ministers and they will negotiate on behalf of the 27 with the UK. At the end, the treaty will be agreed by the Council of the EU, by qualified majority and by the European Parliament.
Isabel Marques da Silva, euronews: During that time what happens to British MEPs and civil servants?
Jean-Claude Piri: During these two years, which can be prolonged to three years, everything stays the same. The UK stays with same rights and obligations in all institutions.
euronews:What are the main areas that are going to be negotiated? What is the probable scenario that would please both sides?
Jean-Claude Piri: First of all, trade relations. Now we are in the single market with no customs rights, with no obstacles to exchanges and suddenly there would be borders with duties and so on, so forth. So, the main thing, and especially for the UK that sells nearly 50% of its goods to the 27 – because the EU sells only about 8% to the UK – the UK will have an interest to negotiate new trade relations with the EU. If it is a classic trade agreement that could be done within a few years, 4 or 5 years. But it is anyway long because it is complicated. But if the UK tries to get in the single market as it is, that we would be much more complicated.