Last week, the European Parliament backed a motion setting out its position for the Brexit negotiations. The vote backed the motion 516 to 133.
The motion effectively sets out general principles at the start of the two year negotiations for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (EU) under the Article 50 Process. Speaking at a press conference on 5 April shortly after the vote, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, stated that the vote meant that “the UK on the one hand and the (European) Commission on the other hand now know the position of the Parliament, what the red lines are.” He went on to say that “the interests of our citizens is our first priority” and called for an early resolution on the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens elsewhere in the EU.
The motion, which was supported by the two largest groups of MEPs, backs a number of positions that have been taken by EU leaders and which include the need for a “phased approach” to negotiations. This would effectively require progress on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal, including settling financial commitments, before talks on a future trading relationship can begin. It also backs the call for transparency in the talks, and for the UK to be considered liable for financial commitments that apply after it leaves the EU. It further states:
- Transitional arrangements should be time-limited to three years and be enforced by the EU’s Court of Justice
- UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain should receive “reciprocal” treatment
- The final deal should not include a “trade-off” between trade and security co-operation
- The UK should adhere to EU environmental and anti-tax evasion standards in order to get close trade ties
- The European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency should be moved out of London
- The UK should pay towards costs for the EU that “arise directly from its withdrawal”
During the debate, Manfred Weber, chairman of the largest group of MEPs, the centre-right European People’s Party, stating that “cherry-picking will not happen. A state outside the European Union will not have better conditions than a state inside the European Union.” Gianna Pitella, chairman of the European Socialists and Democrats also agued that the UK “can not benefit from the same conditions as members do,” adding “if you leave the house, you still have to pay the bills.”
While the motion is not binding on European Commission officials, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs that “the role of this parliament is more important than ever. You must scrutinise and validate the final agreement.” He went on to say, “we will of course negotiate in friendship and openness and not in a hostile mood, with a country that has brought so much to our union and will remain close to hearts long after they have left, but this is now the time for reason over emotion,” adding, “what’s at stake here are the lives of millions of people. Millions have family or professional links to the United Kingdom.”
On Wednesday 29 March, the United Kingdom officially launched Brexit with a letter handover – effectively triggering Article 50 and launching a two year process to leave the European Union (EU).
British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the official Brexit process in a letter to the EU, which was handed over to Brussels by Sir Tim Barrow at 12:20 BST. Two years of exit negotiations will now follow.
EU leaders responded to the UK officially triggering the Brexit process, with EU Council President Donald Tusk tweeting shortly after receiving the letter “after nine months the UK has delivered.” He went on to say that there was “no reason to pretend that this is a happy day” in Brussels or London, adding “most Europeans, including almost half the British voters, which that we would stay together, not drift apart.” He went on to say that still, there is “also something positive” about Brexit, adding “Brexit has made us a community of 27 more determined and more united than before.” He noted that the EU states would protect their interests in the “difficult negotiations” that lie ahead, concluded, “we already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.” Meanwhile a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that Britain remained a key EU ally. Ulrike Demmer disclosed that the official notification would give Germany “more clarity” on how Britain planned to proceed, adding “we must not forget that the UK is still a partner, in NATO and in Europe.” Manfred Weber, a German politician and chair of the centre-right EPP Group in the European Parliament, was more blunt, tweeting “EU has done everything to keep the British. From now on, only the interests of the remaining 440 million Europeans count for us.” Meanwhile the Austrian government disclosed that clarifying the status of EU citizens living in Britain was a priority, with Chancellor Christian Kern stating, “for me, the status and rights of around 25,000 Austrians living and working in the UK are at the forefront.” Mr Kern went on to say that “we also want to achieve clarity and legal certainty for Austrian companies operating in the UK.”
Below is the historic letter triggering Brexit.
Dear President Tusk
On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 13 March and it received Royal Assent from Her Majesty The Queen and became an Act of Parliament on 16 March.
Today, therefore, I am writing to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom. I hereby notify the European Council in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. In addition, in accordance with the same Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, I hereby notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community. References in this letter to the European Union should therefore be taken to include a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.
This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave. We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.
It is in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side. We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals. We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.
The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible.
I would like to propose some principles that may help to shape our coming discussions, but before I do so, I should update you on the process we will be undertaking at home, in the United Kingdom.
The process in the United Kingdom
As I have announced already, the Government will bring forward legislation that will repeal the Act of Parliament – the European Communities Act 1972 – that gives effect to EU law in our country. This legislation will, wherever practical and appropriate, in effect convert the body of existing European Union law (the “acquis”) into UK law. This means there will be certainty for UK citizens and for anybody from the European Union who does business in the United Kingdom. The Government will consult on how we design and implement this legislation, and we will publish a White Paper tomorrow. We also intend to bring forward several other pieces of legislation that address specific issues relating to our departure from the European Union, also with a view to ensuring continuity and certainty, in particular for businesses. We will of course continue to fulfil our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave.
From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so. When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.
Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union
The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.
It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.
Proposed principles for our discussions
Looking ahead to the discussions which we will soon begin, I would like to suggest some principles that we might agree to help make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible.
- We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation. Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”. We also understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies will, as they trade within the EU, have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets.
- We should always put our citizens first. There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens. There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.
- We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement. We want to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom’s continuing partnership with the EU. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
- We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible. Investors, businesses and citizens in both the UK and across the remaining 27 member states – and those from third countries around the world – want to be able to plan. In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.
- In particular, we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom. We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.
- We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges. Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match. We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes. On the scope of the partnership between us – on both economic and security matters – my officials will put forward detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation.
- We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values. Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.
The task before us
As I have said, the Government of the United Kingdom wants to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens. Likewise, Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake. The United Kingdom’s objectives for our future partnership remain those set out in my Lancaster House speech of 17 January and the subsequent White Paper published on 2 February.
We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. It is for these reasons, and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is of such importance to both sides, that I am sure it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.
The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us. After all, the institutions and the leaders of the European Union have succeeded in bringing together a continent blighted by war into a union of peaceful nations, and supported the transition of dictatorships to democracy. Together, I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent.
Officials announced on Monday, 20 March that UK Prime Minister Theresa May is to officially notify the European Union (EU) on 29 march that the UK is leaving the bloc.
Downing Street announced last week that the prime minister would write a letter to the European Council, adding that it hoped negotiations on the terms of exit and future relations could begin as quickly as possible. A No 10 spokesman disclosed that the UKs Ambassador to the EU, Sir Time Barrow, had informed the European Council, which is headed by President Donald Tusk, earlier on Monday of the date that Article 50 would be triggered. In response to the news, Mr Tusk tweeted within 48 hours of the UK triggering Article 50, I will present the draft Brexit guidelines to the EU 27 Member states. This will set out Britains demands for talks.
Mr Tusk has previously sated that he expects to call an extraordinary summit of the 27 other members within four to six weeks, in order to draw up a mandate for the European Commissions chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. It is likely that a summit will not be held until early May. Preparations may be slowed by holidays around Easter on 16 April and on 1 May. Brussels also wants to avoid clashing with the two-round French presidential election on 23 April and 7 May. Officials have indicated that they would prefer to hold the summit before French President Francois Hollande steps down around mid-May.
Under the Article 50 process, talks on the terms of exit and future relations are not allowed until the UK formally tells the EU that it is leaving. If all goes according to the two-year negotiations allowed for in the official timetable, Brexit should happen in March 2019. EU leaders have said that they want to conclude the talks within eighteen months in order to allow the terms of the UKs exit to be ratified by the UK Parliament and the European Parliament, as well as approved by the necessary majority of EU states.
Mrs May has disclosed that MPs and peers will have a vote on the deal that she negotiates, noting however that the UK will leave anyway even if Parliament rejects it. The government has said that it expects to secure a positive outcome, warning however that there is a chance of there being no formal agreement.
Meanwhile Mrs Mays spokesman also rejected reports that an early election may be held, stating its not going to happen.
If the UK government sticks to its timetable, then Article 50 will be triggered by the end of this month. But how and when? And what happens next?
What is Article 50?
The referendum last June was the UK’s signal that it wants to leave the European Union, and Article 50 is the format notification of the UK’s intention to leave – effectively it is the start of the leaving process, which will last two years.
The article itself is a short, five-point text that was enshrined into EU law as part of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Prior to that, there was no process for leaving the EU. The text is vague, brief and is open to interpretation. Furthermore, it has never been tested before as no member has ever left the EU. Likewise there is no precedent, no patter to follow and therefore the process and procedures for leaving the EU are unclear.
How is Article 50 Triggered?
Due to the lack of precedent, the mechanics of triggering Article 50 are only now being discussed by officials in both London and in Brussels. The only requirement is that the notification is made in writing to the President of the European Council. Therefore it could be as simple as one line and sent in the form of an email, however given the enormity of the decision and the symbolism of the moment, it is likely that the UK government will make more of it. The notification letter may therefor include a reference to the UK government’s repeated desire that the EU remain a strong partner for Britain after Brexit. The letter could also be hand-delivered to the European Council building in Brussels. However by who it remains unclear, although it could be by Britain’s Ambassador to the EU, Sir Tome Barrow, or the Brexit Secretary, David Davis MP.
When Will Article 50 Be Triggered?
When to pull Article 50 is entirely up to the country that is planning to leave the EU. In the case of the UK, Prime Minister Teresa May has repeatedly indicated that she will do it by March. Time however is quickly running out, and the process have been further complicated by politics and sensitivities both in the UK and in Europe.
Domestically, politics between the House of Lords and the House of Commons has deployed the process. Only once the Brexit bill has been cleared by both houses and received royal ascent, will Prime Minister May be in a position to trigger it. However there are several dates which have been deemed as being inappropriate for a triggering.
- 15 March – All eyes will be on the Dutch election, which could be a potentially tricky day for the EU if anti-EU far-right candidate Geert Wilders does well. Triggering Article 50 on that day would also dominate the news agenda and could, potentially, influence Dutch voters. The result of the election will trickle in on 16 March, which will be another bad day to trigger Article 50.
- 25 March – This day marks the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations of the present-day EU. The heads of state from all EU members, with the exception for now at least the UK, will gather in Rome for a weekend of celebrations.
IS the UK Still a Member of the EU After Article 50 Has Been Triggered?
Yes, the UK will remain a member of the EU for precisely two years from the day the article is triggered. Therefore if Article 50 is triggered on 31 March 2017, then the UK would case to be a member of the EU at the end of the day on 31 March 2019. During this two-year period, the UK will remain bound by EU laws and regulations. It will also be entitled to near-full membership rights, however it must also honour its commitments as a member and those include financial. The only areas in the two-year period where the UK is excluded from EU affairs are when the 27 remaining countries are discussing the UK withdrawal or where they are discussing internal EU business.
Once Article 50 Has Been Triggered, Is there Any Turning Back?
Article 50 does not state whether it is reversible and EU lawyers have never pronounced on the issue.
Will Negotiations Between the UK and the EU Begin As Soon As Article 50 is Triggered?
No. There is a common misconception that in the first week after the triggering of Article 50, the two negotiators – Michel Barnier for the EU and David Davis MP for the UK – will face off across a table and begin negotiating Britain’s exit. It will not work like this for a number of reasons. Firstly, the EU side will need at least two months in order to draw up guidelines. The remaining 27 states will also decide on negotiating topics and re lines, which they will then feed into the EU Council. While the EU has already presented a united front on Brexit, it will quickly become clear that many of the negotiating topics and red lines are unique to individuals states. Subsequently things will become more granular, complicated and divided as the process goes along. It will be up to the European Council’s behind-the-scenes Brexit negotiation, Belgian diplomat Didier Seewus, to co-ordinate with the member countries and try to keep negotiations on track. Secondly, while Mr Barnier is the chief negotiator on behalf of the EU Commission, the negotiations will be carried out by large teams on both sides.
What if the Withdrawal Process Takes Longer than the Designated Two Years?
The exit clock to leave the EU effectively begins the moment that Article is triggered. Precisely two years later the UK ceases to be a member of the EU. During that period, the negotiations for the exit must be concluded. However this is an extremely unrealistic timetable to conclude such complicated negotiations and in reality, because of the time taken at the beginning and the end for the process to wind up and wind down the negotiations, the actual negotiating time will probably be only 15 months at best. The two-year Article 50 period can however be extended, and the UK continue to be an EU member, however only if all 27 remaining countries agree to it unanimously.
The Election Day is approaching in the Netherlands. First of a series of national elections that in the few months will help to decide the future for the European Union. The bloc’s two largest economies, France and Germany, will hold elections in two round for France (April and May) and September in Germany. Also Italy, depending on the status of its fragile governments, may join them. However, kicking it all off is the Netherlands, whose voters will go to the polls on the 15th on March. In the Netherlands, as in many other EU countries, nationalist and Euroskeptic parties are performing well in opinion polls.
In recent years, elections in many European countries have shown that popular support for mainstream political parties is waning as anti-system and Euroskeptic forces are gaining popularity. The Netherlands, one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, is following this trend.
Its parliament is composed of numerous parties, and coalitions are often needed to form governments. According to opinion polls, in the coming election, the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy of Prime Minister Mark Rutte would win from 23 to 28 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. This would be a significant decline from the 41 seats it won in the general election of 2012. Similarly, the Labor Party would win 10 to 12 seats, well below the 38 seats it obtained in the last election.
These votes could be lost in favor of the euroskeptic Party of Freedom, who according to January opinion polls could double its parliamentary representation, reaching between 29 and 35 seats (in 2012, it won only 15 seats). That party and its leader, Geert Wilders, want the Netherlands to leave the European Union (a so-called Nexit) and to reintroduce the guilder as its national currency. The party has a strong anti-immigration and anti-Muslim agenda, presenting itself as a protector of Dutch culture and identity.
With the financial crisis over in the Netherlands, the economy is growing and has faded as an election issue, so Wildres’ electoral campaign has been dominated for the most part by the issue of immigration. Wilders has vowed to ban Muslim immigration and shut mosques if he wins. He was also convicted in December in a hate speech trial over his promise to reduce the number of Moroccans in the country.
However, Wilders’ campaign is faltering, with immigrants who make up 30% of Dutch population. Concerning the EU issue, opinion polls suggest support for a Dutch “Nexit” in the months after the Brexit vote fell by 8% to 25%. Pollsters say people have realized that leaving the EU would be more complicated than they thought. Nevertheless, according to latest polls two weeks before elections he was still leading polls.
But even if the Party of Freedom performs strongly in the election, it would struggle to enter the government. Most mainstream Dutch political parties refuse to cooperate with Wilders and have said they will exclude the Party of Freedom from the negotiations to form a government. The Party of Freedom is the only major party advocating a Nexit; the rest of the political establishment remains committed to the Netherlands’ EU membership and its role as the heart of the process of European integration.