NHS European Office

Brexit: FAQs


What is Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union and the process for withdrawing from the European Union?

The right of a Member State to withdraw from the European Union was introduced for the first time by the Lisbon Treaty.  Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) provides the procedural requirements for a Member State to be able to withdraw from the EU. 

This involves the notification process from the Member State and procedure for negotiations and a ‘withdrawal agreement’ (‘divorce agreement’) between the EU and the withdrawing State. It does not include any substantive conditions.  

The legal consequence of a withdrawal is the end of application of EU Treaties and law in the state concerned. The Article also gives a time period for withdrawal negotiations of 2 years. No EU Member State has invoked Article 50 previously.

The European Parliament has produced a useful ‘at a glance’ info sheet on the Article 50 procedure, which includes a useful info-graphic on the role of the different EU institutions and Member States. The full text of the Article can be found here.

What is the time scale for invoking Article 50?

At the 2016 Conservative Party Conference, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, announced that she will invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

What will be the impact of the UK’s plans to leave the EU on the NHS?

The NHS played a central part in the Remain and Leave campaigns before the EU Referendum. The director of the NHS European Office has considered what lies ahead for the NHS as the UK plans to exit the EU in this blog article. There is also an article by Elisabetta Zanon published in the Health Service Journal.

We have produced an infographic on the top issues for the NHS related to Brexit.

In October 2016, the NHS Confederation issued a response to the Health Select Committee (Commons) inquiry on Brexit and health and social care, where we discuss the key potential impacts and make some recommendations on how to mitigate risks and take advantage of opportunities. 

What are some possible scenarios for a future relationship between the UK and the EU post Brexit and what would they mean for the NHS?

Before the Brexit vote, our written evidence on to the Health Select Committee gave some indication of the future possibilities for the relationship between the UK and the EU and implications for the NHS. The submission discusses three principle options; the Norwegian/ EEA model; the Swiss model or a more radical departure from the EU under a WTO model. Read the full submission.

In between these two extremes, the UK government could seek to negotiate a more nuanced model of new relationship, for example based on full access to the single market and free movement of citizens but with the possibility of using an ‘emergency break’ in case of excessive migration flow (this would be an enhanced version of what David Cameron negotiated with the EU before the Referendum).  

Continued access to the EU single market is likely to imply adherence to EU policies and rules in many areas of importance for the NHS and hence a smaller degree of change from an NHS perspective.  At the other extreme, a total exit from the single market would imply bigger potential change on the NHS.

What will be the impact on the NHS EU workforce and on recruiting and retaining staff from outside the UK?

Kate Ling from the European Office has produced a blog article on immediate implications for the workforce and what may happen next. There is a highlight on issues such as education, training and on employment regulation, and the Working Time Directive. 

The NHS European Office is a member of a coalition of 29 health and social care organisations created to ensure that standards of care are maintained as Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU.

If the UK invokes Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, can the UK’s departure from the EU be stopped?

The framework for recalling Article 50 is unclear in the Treaty. Article 50.5 stipulates:

“If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49”. Article 49 outlines the process whereby a country may apply for membership of the EU.

Article 50 does not stipulate what would happen if a member state decides it no longer wants to pursue the Article 50 process of withdrawal from the EU within the two year time frame. The fact that the Treaty remains silent on this matter could imply that a member state may be allowed some flexibility here. That Article 50 is silent on the matter of revocation does not mean that a change of direction would be illegal under EU law, as long as the European Union’s Court of Justice was convinced that the switch was constitutional. It may be possible for a member state to withdraw its invocation of Article 50, for example, if the withdrawal agreement was rejected either in a referendum or by an act of parliament.

What are the necessary UK constitutional requirements for the UK to invoke Article 50 and to withdraw from the EU?

This has been a question of some legal debate. There are a number of areas that are currently under examination in the UK. The most critical issues are the advisory nature of the EU referendum and the role of the UK Parliament in the process. So far, Theresa May has said parliament will be consulted on the negotiation process, but has made no guarantee that there will be a vote on Brexit.

The House of Lords Library has produced a briefing which examines in particular what Parliament’s role would be in the process of withdrawing from the European Union in several key areas: invoking Article 50; overseeing the negotiation process; ratifying agreements and repealing and reviewing domestic legislation.

Does the UK still need to comply with EU laws and regulations?

In a word, yes. On the morning of the 24 June, the President of the Council of the EU issued a statement saying “I would also like to reassure you that there will be no legal vacuum. Until the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK. And by this I mean rights and obligations”. Therefore, until the UK formally withdraws from the EU, EU laws will continue to be applied in the UK. Once Article 50 has been invoked, the UK and EU have 2 years to negotiate an appropriate withdrawal agreement. During this period the UK will remain a full member of the EU.

Will I still be able to use my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare in the EU?

Until the UK formally leaves the EU, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK – both in terms of rights and obligations. So there is no immediate impact on UK citizens travelling and living abroad and using the EHIC or for European citizens living in the UK.

What will be the impact on EU grants for NHS organisations currently involved in EU funding bids?

On 28 June, the UK government published a statement clarifying that there would be no immediate impact on UK organisations applying for funding. On 4 July 2016, the European Commission also sent out a statement confirming that UK organisations can still participate and receive funding from Horizon 2020. 

So the key message to UK organisations and to European partners and colleagues is that the UK is still a full member of the EU and that the result of the referendum has changed nothing legally in terms of our ability to access EU funds for the moment. 

On 13 August, the Treasury announced guaranteed funding for certain EU funded projects, including Horizon 2020 and the EU Health Programme research projects that continue beyond the point where the UK leaves the EU. 

In terms of charting the future collaboration between the UK and the EU on science and research, this will be part of the negotiations process on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Our office responded in writing to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the opportunities and challenges of Brexit. 

What will happen to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which is based in London?

The possible relocation of the EMA to another European country will be part of the withdrawal agreement to be negotiated in the two year time frame. Read the statement from the EMA which clarifies that there will be no immediate impact on its work following the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

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