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Georgetown Law Library

United Kingdom Legal Research Guide

This in-depth guide will help researchers navigate legal materials for the United Kingdom.

Primary Legal Materials Related to Brexit

Formal Notice of Withdrawal

  • Letter of Prime Minister Theresa May to the President of the European Council
    In this letter dated March 29, 2017, the prime minister formally notified Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, of the UK's intent to withdraw from EU, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (see below for a link to the full text of the treaty).  The letter triggers the process of withdrawal negotiations, which must be completed within two years, unless all parties consent to extend the negotiations.
     

Legislation

  • European Union (Withdrawal) Bill
    Also known as the "Great Repeal Bill," this legislation will repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, which enables EU law to have direct effect in the UK.  The bill also will convert all EU law in force on the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU into UK law, thereby ensuring statutory continuity.  Parliament is expected to consider the bill during the autumn of 2017.  Click here to monitor the progress of the bill.
     
  • European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act 2017
    This legislation was introduced in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in the Miller case (see below), requiring the government to obtain the consent of Parliament before initiating the UK's withdrawal from the EU.  The House of Lords added amendments to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently residing in the UK and to give Parliament a meaningful opportunity to reject the terms of the withdrawal agreement, but the House of Commons declined to back either amendment.  Both houses passed the unamended bill on March 13, 2017, and it received the royal assent on March 16, 2017.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.  
     
  • European Union Referendum Act 2015
    The legislation that authorized the referendum on EU membership did not require Parliament to take action in the event that a majority voted in favor of withdrawal.  The absence of such a provision led many legal scholars to conclude that the referendum was merely advisory in nature, not legally binding, and that an Act of Parliament will be required before the formal process of withdrawing from the EU may begin.
     
  • European Communities Act 1972
    The European Communities Act (ECA) is the statute through which Parliament enabled EU law to have direct effect in the UK, thereby creating enforceable rights in UK domestic law.  The High Court of Justice characterized the ECA as a statute of "special constitutional significance" when it ruled on a legal challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to initiate the UK's withdrawal from the EU without seeking Parliamentary approval.  (See the Miller case below.)
     

Case Law

Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to initiate the process of withdrawing from the EU without holding a vote in Parliament prompted a legal challenge.  On November 3, 2106, a three-judge panel of the the High Court of Justice ruled that the government must obtain Parliament's consent before it can initiate the withdrawal process.  The government appealed the ruling. On January 24, 2017, the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court, forcing the government to introduce a bill in Parliament authorizing the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

  • R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (judgment of the Supreme Court)
    R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (summary of the judgment)
    This judgment of the UK Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court of Justice (see below) requiring the government of Prime Minister Theresa May to obtain the authorization of Parliament prior to initiating the UK's withdrawal from the EU.  In a parallel challenge to Brexit, which was consolidated with the Miller case, the Supreme Court also held that the devolved legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales cannot exercise a veto over the UK's decision to withdraw from the EU.
     
  • R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (judgment of the High Court)
    R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (summary of the judgment)
    This judgment was entered by a three-judge panel of the High Court of Justice in a legal challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to initiate the UK's withdrawal from the EU, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union, without holding a vote in Parliament.  The Court unanimously held that the prime minister's government cannot legally use its prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval.
     

Treaty on the European Union (TEU)

  • Full Text of the Treaty, as Published in the Official Journal of the EU:  (PDF version) (HTML version)
    Article 50 of the TEU outlines the process by which a member state may withdraw from the European Union.  The process is triggered by a formal notice of intent to withdraw, followed by negotiations on the terms of withdrawal, which must be completed within two years unless there is unanimous consent to extend the negotiations.  Note that the treaty text published in the Official Journal is the consolidated version of the treaty, which incorporates all subsequent amendments to the original text.
     
  • European Parliament Briefing Paper on Article 50 of the TEU
    In addition to summarizing the process of withdrawing from the EU set forth in Article 50 of the TEU, this briefing paper provides background information about the origins of Article 50.  End notes with citations to scholarly articles are included.
     

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

Assuming that the UK does eventually leave the European Union, another issue that will need to be addressed is whether the UK will remain a party to more than a thousand treaties and other international agreements concluded between the EU and third parties while the UK was a an EU member state.  The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties is likely to come into play in resolving this question.

  • Full Text of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as published in the UN Treaty Series:  PDF
     
  • The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:  A CommentaryINTL KZ1298.3 1969 .V54 2012