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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

Selected Negotiation Documents

  • Framework for the Future Relationship Between the EU and the UK (14 November, 2018)
    This eight-page political declaration provides an aspirational outline of the future relationship envisioned between the EU and the UK.
     
  • Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU (14 November 2018)
    This is the full text of the agreement reached between the UK government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, and the European Commission, led by its Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier.
     
  • Joint Progress Report on Phase I of the Negotiations (8 December, 2017)
    This joint report memorializes the progress made during the initial phase of the withdrawal negotiations, particularly with respect to the following issues:  1) the UK's financial settlement with the EU; 2) the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK and the rights of UK citizens residing in the EU; and 3) the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
     
  • Formal Notice of Intent to Withdraw (29 March, 2017)
    This letter from Prime Minister Theresa May to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, constitutes the UK's formal notice of its intent to withdraw from EU, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union.  The letter triggered the process of withdrawal, which must be completed within two years, unless all parties consent to extend the negotiations.

 

Pending UK Legislation

  • Agriculture Bill
    This bill will provide a legal framework for the UK to leave the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and establish a new program of domestic agricultural regulations and subsidies that is compliant with the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture.  See Bill Documents for draft texts and explanatory notes.
     
  • Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill
    In the event of a "no deal" Brexit in which the UK leaves the EU without a formal withdrawal agreement in place, this bill will enable the UK government to implement and make changes to all financial services legislation that has been adopted by the EU but has not yet entered into force on the date of the UK's withdrawal, or which is currently in negotiation and may be adopted by the EU for a period of up to two years after the date of the UK's withdrawal.  See Bill Documents for draft texts and explanatory notes.
     
  • Fisheries Bill
    This bill will provide a legal framework for the UK to operate as an independent coastal state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea after the UK leaves the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy.  It will create a common approach to fisheries management among the UK's component nations, including those with devolved legislative powers (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland).  See Bill Documents for draft texts and explanatory notes.
     
  • Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill
    This bill will end the free movement of persons for EU nationals and subject them and their families to UK immigration controls.  It also reestablishes a special status for Irish nationals under UK immigration law and authorizes the amendment, by regulation, of retained EU laws on social security, enabling policy changes to be made after the UK's withdrawal from the EU.  See Bill Documents for draft texts and explanatory notes.
     
  • Trade Bill
    This bill provides for the establishment of a new Trade Remedies Authority; authorizes the collection and sharing of trade-related data; enables the UK to continue its obligations as an independent member of the WTO's plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement after it leaves the EU; and facilitates the continuation and implementation of free trade agreements to which the UK is currently a party by virtue of its EU membership.  See Bill Documents for draft texts and explanatory notes.


Enacted UK Legislation

  • Finance Act 2019
    This act includes provisions enabling the UK government to make technical corrections to existing tax laws in order to keep the system of tax collection functioning in the event of a "no deal" Brexit in which the UK leaves the EU without a formal withdrawal agreement in place.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.
     
  • Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019
    This act facilitates the implementation of new reciprocal healthcare agreements to enable UK citizens who live, work or travel in the EU, and EU citizens who live, work or travel in the UK, to continue to obtain healthcare services.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.
     
  • Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act 2018
    Also known as the Customs Act, this legislation established a new customs regime to govern the tariff-related aspects of the UK's post-Brexit trading regime.  It also amends existing VAT and excise tax legislation to ensure that these tax regimes continue to function after Brexit.  The legislation is intended to provide sufficient flexibility to accommodate a range of potential outcomes from the withdrawal negotiations.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.
     
  • Data Protection Act 2018
    This bill updated the UK's existing data protection legislation, in accordance with the EU's most recent Data Protection Regulation and Data Protection Directive, and gives individuals more control over their personal data.  The bill addressed the following topics:  general data processing; data processing by law enforcement agencies; data processing for national security purposes; and regulatory oversight and enforcement.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.
     
  • European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018
    This legislation repeals the European Communities Act of 1972, which enables EU law to have direct effect in the UK.  The legislation also converts all EU law in force on the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU into domestic law, thereby ensuring statutory continuity.  Moving forward, Parliament will have the option of retaining UE law or enacting new legislation to replace it on a case-by-case basis.  Click here to track the passage of the bill through Parliament.
     
  • European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Act 2017
    This legislation was introduced on January 26, 2017, 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.  Both houses of Parliament passed the 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 would 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.)
     

UK 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 may not 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.
     

EU Case Law

  • Wightman & Others v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (CJEU advisory opinion)
    The underlying litigation was initiated by members of the Scottish Parliament seeking clarification as to whether a member state which has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union could unilaterally revoke its intention to withdraw.  The Court of Session, the supreme civil court of Scotland, referred the question to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).  On December 10, 2018, the CJEU issued an advisory opinion holding that a member state may unilaterally revoke its intention to withdraw from the EU at any time prior to the entry into force of a withdrawal agreement or at any time prior to the expiration of the two-year period established under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union for completing the withdrawal or any extension thereof.
     

Treaty on the European Union (TEU)

  • Consolidated Text of the Treaty (PDF as published in the Official Journal of the EU);  HTML version.
    Article 50 of the TEU outlines the process by which a member state may withdraw from the EU.  It 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 consolidated version of the treaty, as published in the Official Journal, incorporates all subsequent amendments made 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.
     

Conventions on the Law of Treaties

Another critical issue that will need to be resolved once the UK has left the EU 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 an EU member state.  Listed below are conventions on the law of treaties that may be relevant to this inquiry, as well as scholarly commentaries on these conventions: