So the people have spoken and Britain is to leave the European Unit by triggering ‘article 50’ – so what happens next? Article 50 refers to article or clause 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.The treaty came into force in December 2009 and lays out the constitution of the European Union. Article 50 deals with a member state leaving the EU. The clause is short and sweet, unlike most legal documents issuing from the EU. Just 260 words outline the process.

A simple explanation of Brexit

Here’s an explanation of how Brexit will take place step-by-step:

Britain votes to leave the EU

Britain decides when to trigger Article 50 and negotiations open between the EU and the UK government over the terms of the break-up. Meanwhile, the UK has no representation within the EU.

A draft agreement goes before the European Council – the remaining 27 leaders of the member states. For the deal to be ratified by the European Parliament, 20 countries representing 65% of the EU population must agree to the terms.

The initial time limit for discussing Brexit terms is two years after article 50 is triggered by the UK government, although the EU and Britain can agree to extend this.

If no agreement is reached, at the end of two years, any EU treaties no longer apply to the UK.

Once the Brexit is formally agreed, Britain is no longer a EU member state and Parliament must repeal the European Communities Act 1972 to finalise the arrangements.

If the UK wants to rejoin the EU, the government must apply like any other country.

Article 50 and expats

Article 50 protects the rights of around 5 million British expats in Europe and Europeans in the UK.

Access to healthcare and the right to live and work is guaranteed for expats for at least two years from the date the article is triggered.

Assuming the Tories decide not to formally start Brexit until after their leadership process ends by the start of October 2016, then Brexit would be scheduled for October 2018.

Ignoring the referendum result.The rules do not require Britain to negotiate a departure from the EU, the government can just decide to leave, but this is unlikely because too many diplomatic, legal and economic loose ends will be left. The UK government can also choose to ignore the referendum result.

The decision is not binding in law and several precedents have been set in Europe.

Denmark and Ireland (twice) have returned ‘no’ votes in referendums over ratifying treaties only for the EU to return with concessions and assurances that ended with further referendums that ended in ‘yes’ votes.

The most recent ‘no’ referendum was when the Greeks rejected EU bail out terms in 2015 and elected to ditch the euro in favour of returning to the drachma.

The government ignored the result and agreed a deal with the EU, which again offered concessions.