May triggers the Brexit process: What’s next?

Nine months after the British people voted to leave the European Union, a negotiation of unprecedented scale, scope and complexity will finally begin today. Nobody can predict for certain where it will end.

Letter of Notification from the Prime Minister to the President of the European Council setting out the United Kingdom's intention to withdraw from the European Union. Signed by the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office. Crown copyright 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May has formally notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave under the Article 50 exit process of the European Treaties – a process that was never intended to be actually used.

This notification starts the clock on a two year period during which the UK will have to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU. It is the first time such a negotiation is carried out, so both negotiating sides will adjust their positions and tactics as the process is under way. In addition, there is no legal duty on the EU to negotiate a future trade and security relationship with the UK within this two year process.

If the UK fails to secure an agreement with the EU within this timeframe, it will fall out of the EU onto the default position of a trading relationship based on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules which would involve tariffs on some goods, burdensome checks at the UK-EU border and limited arrangements allowing UK firms to sell their services into the EU.

This note will set out what could happen next, key uncertainties and our advice for businesses.

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