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Brexit: What Occurs When Article 50 is Triggered?

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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.

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.

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