By | November 12, 2005

United Kingdom and Gibraltar European Union membership referendum [portmanteau of English Br itain or Br itish (English for Great Britain or British) and exit (English for output)] of, with an exit buzzword Britain from the European Union is called.

The origin of the term can be seen in analogy to the word creation Grexit [made-up word from English Gr eece or Gr eek (English for Greece or Greek and exit)], which is used to describe a possible departure of Greece from the euro area.

The procedure for the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU depended on the design of the Brexit treaty. This required the parliamentary approval of the British House of Commons, both in terms of content and in terms of the schedule. Politically particularly sensitive was the status of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The British Parliament refused to approve the treaty negotiated by Prime Minister T. May three times in March 2019. Her successor B. Johnson negotiated a new contract in Brussels in October 2019, in which the “backstop” rule does not apply. This would have turned the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland into an EU external border.


In response to growing tendencies in the population and his Conservative Party to be critical of the EU, Prime Minister D. Cameron promised in January 2013 that a referendum would be held on whether the country would remain in the EU in the event of a Conservative victory in the 2015 general election. On May 28, 2015, his newly elected government introduced a corresponding law into the House of Commons. Cameron resigned on February 20, 2016to propose June 23, 2016 as a referendum date to parliament. At an EU summit in Brussels on February 18 and 19, 2016, he had previously negotiated concessions (including restrictions on social benefits for EU immigrants, strengthening the sovereignty of national parliaments vis-à-vis the EU) in order to convince their own people to stay to vote in the EU. Nevertheless, on June 23, 2016, with a participation of 72%, a majority of 51.9% of the voters voted in favor of leaving the European Union. While there was a majority for Brexit in England and Wales, 62.0% in Scotland and 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted for the United Kingdom to remain in the EU.


On June 5th, 1975 there had already been a referendum in Great Britain on maintaining British EC membership. The supporters were able to prevail with 67.2% against 32.8%. Previously, the government of H. Wilson had negotiated with the organs of the EC improved British membership conditions. Nevertheless, the question of the relationship with the EC or the European Union remained a contentious issue in British domestic politics in the following decades. Prime Minister M. Thatcher, for example, strictly refused to integrate Great Britain into the EC. The country also kept its distance from the European Monetary Union. For a long time, the possibility of leaving was not regulated in the EU treaties. This changed with the Lisbon Treaty. Article 50 of the EU treaty now enables a member state to withdraw voluntarily.

Exit procedure

On January 24, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the British government needed the approval of Parliament in order to initiate the withdrawal procedure. On February 8, 2017, the House of Commons authorized the government to initiate the withdrawal procedure.

The British EU ambassador presented the declaration of withdrawal to EU Council President D. Tusk on March 29, 2017 in Brussels. Negotiations between the UK government under Prime Minister T. May and the EU on the details of the exit began on June 19, 2017.

The membership of Great Britain ends after the entry into force of this agreement or two years after the notification to the European Council. The two-year period can be extended by mutual agreement. After leaving, it is still possible to apply for a new membership. According to a ruling by the European Court of Justice on December 10th, 2018, a decision to withdraw according to Art. 50 TEU may be withdrawn until the withdrawal date, as long as no corresponding agreement has been ratified.

On July 13, 2017, the British government presented a law on the revocation of EU membership. In a long parliamentary struggle until the repeal law came into force on June 26, 2018, the Brexit opponents in the lower and upper houses did not succeed in their demands for a “soft Brexit”, in particular to remain in the European single market, but at least in the customs union, or enforce a second referendum. The proponents of a “hard Brexit”, that is, the complete withdrawal of Great Britain from European integration, were primarily in the ranks of the ruling conservatives. On the other hand, the House of Commons strengthened its participation rights by tying the ratification of an exit treaty with the EU to its prior approval (meaningful vote).

In an agreement with the EU on December 15, 2017, the exit date was set on March 29, 2019. This should be followed by a transition phase until December 31, 2020, during which Great Britain can comprehensively regulate its relations with the EU and conclude bilateral trade agreements with third countries. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom would remain in the European single market and the customs union.

Prime Minister B. Johnson announced that Great Britain would leave the EU on October 31, 2019, if necessary without a withdrawal agreement. This led to violent domestic political and legal disputes. The main subject of discussion was the future status of Northern Ireland (“backstop”). From the EU’s point of view, border controls and trade restrictions with the Republic of Ireland should be avoided.

In the second half of October 2019, the British Parliament forced Johnson to ask the EU to extend the deadline to January 31, 2020. The basis was a law passed by parliament in September that was supposed to prevent a Brexit without a deal on October 31, 2019 (“Benn Act”). On October 28, 2019, the EU states signaled that they would grant the postponement until January 31, 2020.