Currently, there is little realistic analysis of the options and their consequences. This note sets out some potential paths for discussion.
If Article 50 were activated and if the UK were to leave the EU, then the UK would not be able to re-join the EU on terms as favourable as it currently has. Its various opt-outs and rebates would fall away and not be renewed; it might have to join the Euro; and, its standing would be weakened for needlessly causing so much trouble. In exchange for tariff-free trade, it is likely that it will have to allow free movement of people. In order to guarantee the well-being of its citizens in the EU, it would have to reciprocate for the EU citizens in the UK. Moreover, it is likely that it will have to pay a significant fee and yet not get a say in the debate on new legislation: the “pay, but no say” quandary. If no agreement were reached with the EU, then the UK would have to rely upon the WTO terms: namely, some trade tariffs and little protection for its citizens abroad: the “Little Englander” quandary.
If Article 50 were activated, but the UK had not actually left the EU, then if might be possible to withdraw the notification or find that it was invalidly given in the first place. In either case, the present legal and economic structures would remain, but it is likely that the UK’s standing and so future influence would be diminished for the futility of the exercise: the “embarrassing uncle” quandary. It is possible, though, that the shock to all concerned (and with good will on all sides) could result in the UK’s standing being enhanced eventually and it might be able to alter the direction of travel of the EU such that it became more accountable, transparent and efficient to the benefit of all: the “fairy godmother” result.
If Article 50 were not invoked, then everything would remain the same. However, the EU would become increasingly frustrated with the UK’s position, and most likely try to ostracise it from future involvement in the decision making process. Yet, formally, it could not do that and so the EU would have to conclude that it needed to negotiate with the UK in order to break the deadlock: the “godfather” result. In this scenario, the UK might remain a member of the EU, but on revised terms, or it might leave the EU, but with its position protected. It is not inconceivable that being out of the EU might allow the UK to forge its own destiny and create a new trading block to which other countries, including some EU countries, might like to join: the “New Commonwealth” result.
Michael Edenborough QC, 17th July 2016