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UK votes to leave the EU

The UK has voted to leave the EU by 52% to 48%. Leave won the majority of votes in England and Wales, while every council in Scotland saw Remain majorities. Follow latest updates and reaction.

So when will Britain actually leave it?

For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May has said she intends to trigger this process by the end of March 2017, meaning the UK will be expected to have left by the summer of 2019, depending on the precise timetable agreed during the negotiations.

Once negotiations officially begin, we will start to get a clear idea of what kind of deal the UK will seek from the EU, on trade and immigration.

The government will also enact a Great Repeal Bill which will end the primacy of EU law in the UK. It is expected to incorporate all EU legislation into UK law in one lump, after which the government will decide over a period of time, which parts to keep, change or retain.

What about the court challenge to the Brexit process?

A court challenge to Theresa May’s right to trigger the Article 50 process without getting the backing of Parliament was successful in the High Court. Downing Street has since appealed to the Supreme Court with a judgement expected in January.

Downing Street says it intends to stick to its March timetable for the beginning of the two year exit talks. Even if the government’s appeal fails it does not mean necessarily that there will be any delays to Brexit. It is expected that in those circumstances usual business might be cleared so a very short Act of Parliament could be brought forward to go through the Commons and Lords.

Although it is generally believed that the go-ahead would ultimately be given – because most MPs have said they would respect the EU referendum result – having to go through the full parliamentary process could prompt attempts to amend the legislation or add in caveats, such as the UK having to negotiate a deal which included staying the European single market after Brexit.

How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?

Once Article 50 has been triggered, the UK will have two years to negotiate its withdrawal. But no one really knows how the Brexit process will work – Article 50 was only created in late 2009 and it has never been used.

Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor, wanted Britain to remain in the EU, and he has suggested it could take up to six years for the UK to complete exit negotiations. The terms of Britain’s exit will have to be agreed by 27 national parliaments, a process which could take some years, he has argued.

EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member. The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making.

Why will Brexit take so long?

Unpicking 43 years of treaties and agreements covering thousands of different subjects was never going to be a straightforward task. It is further complicated by the fact that it has never been done before and negotiators will, to some extent, be making it up as they go along.

The post-Brexit trade deal is likely to be the most complex part of the negotiation because it needs the unanimous approval of more than 30 national and regional parliaments across Europe, some of whom may want to hold referendums.

The likely focus of negotiations between the UK and EU

In very simplified terms, the starting positions are that the EU will only allow the UK to be part of the European single market (which allows tariff-free trade) if it continues to allow EU nationals the unchecked right to live and work in the UK. The UK says it wants controls “on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe”. Both sides want trade to continue after Brexit with the UK seeking a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services” – such as those in the City of London. The challenge for the UK’s Brexit talks will be to do enough to tackle immigration concerns while getting the best possible trade arrangements with the EU.

Some Brexiteers, such as ex-chancellor Lord Lawson, say that as the UK does not want freedom of movement and the EU says that without it there is no single market membership, the UK should end “uncertainty” by pushing ahead with Brexit and not “waste time” trying to negotiate a special deal.

What do “soft” and “hard” Brexit mean?

These terms are increasingly being used as debate focuses on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. There is no strict definition of either, but they are used to refer to the closeness of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit.

So at one extreme, “hard” Brexit could involve the UK refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of people in order to maintain access to the EU single market. At the other end of the scale, a “soft” Brexit might follow a similar path to Norway, which is a member of the single market and has to accept the free movement of people as a result.

Ex-chancellor George Osborne and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are among those to have warned against pursuing a “hard” option, while some Eurosceptic Conservative MPs have put forward the opposite view.

What happens to EU citizens living in the UK?

The government has declined to give a firm guarantee about the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK, saying this is not possible without a reciprocal pledge from other EU members about the millions of British nationals living on the continent.

EU nationals with a right to permanent residence, which is granted after they have lived in the UK for five years, will be be able to stay, the chief civil servant at the Home Office has said. The rights of other EU nationals would be subject to negotiations on Brexit and the “will of Parliament”, he added.

What happens to UK citizens working in the EU?

A lot depends on the kind of deal the UK agrees with the EU. If it remains within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights, allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa. If the government opted to impose work permit restrictions, then other countries could reciprocate, meaning Britons would have to apply for visas to work.

What about EU nationals who want to work in the UK?

Again, it depends on whether the UK government decides to introduce a work permit system of the kind that currently applies to non-EU citizens, limiting entry to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages.

Citizens’ Advice has reminded people their rights have not changed yet and asked anyone to contact them if they think they have been discriminated against following the Leave vote.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested EU migrants who come to the UK as Brexit nears may not be given the right to stay. He has said there might have to be a cut-off point if there was a “surge” in new arrivals

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