The Prime Minister promises to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. Here’s a breakdown of how the process will unfold.
The Prime Minister first gives formal notice of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the EU. This marks the beginning of a two-year negotiating period between Britain and the remaining 27 EU Member States. Britain is therefore expected to leave the European Union in March of 2019 or at least set in place an agreement for the UK’s departure by then.
The negotiating period can be extended, provided each of the 27 remaining EU Member States as well as the United Kingdom agree.
It is important to note that until the Article 50 procedure is complete, the UK remains bound by the provisions of the EU Treaties, with all the rights, responsibilities, and obligations including full access to European markets.
The media has highlighted pressure from the EU leadership for Britain to activate Article 50 exit talks ‘as soon as possible,’ however the timing of Article 50’s activation is at the sole discretion of the United Kingdom.
The trigger date of Article 50 may be for the UK to decide, but who within the UK’s parliamentary system does so and under what terms is another matter. The Prime Minister may have set a deadline for invoking Article 50, but that does not mean she will get her way.
The Government’s lawyers have been defending a claim in the courts for Parliament to first give its approval before the executive – namely Mrs May and her cabinet – can go ahead and get negotiations under way. After losing its case in the High Court, the Government has made an appeal via the Supreme Court. The final ruling will be made in the New Year.
In preparation for a defeat in the courts, Theresa May has reportedly prepared an act of Parliament consisting of only three lines asking that the will of the people be honoured and for the Government to be given control over Article 50 proceedings. The opposition Labour Party has pledged to vote in the ruling Conservative’s favour. However, given the zeal with which so many Labour and Conservative MPs have argued for a Brexit so soft we would essentially remain in the EU, it is difficult to envisage the Government securing an entirely free hand over Article 50.
Meanwhile, Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer has tabled a motion asking for the Government to reveal its negotiating position before invoking Article 50. The motion is likely to be passed as more than twenty Conservative MP are reported to support it. And, even though the motion calls for “no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations” it is near impossible to conceive of Parliament debating the plan without it compromising on our negotiating position with the EU.
Finally, The Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier has proposed a three-tiered approach to the negotiations. He wants to address the UK’s outstanding EU commitments in the form of long-term projects and payments, alongside a transitional deal. Only after those two tiers are addressed should, in Mr Barnier’s view, the question of a replacement UK-EU arrangement be negotiated.
Barnier’s negotiating framework is clearly a ploy to eat up precious time and force the UK onto the back foot. No doubt, he is aware that under a law introduced by David Cameron’s government, any new law must be ratified by Parliament. If Britain’s longer-term trade relationship is to be arranged outside of the Article 50 negotiating period there is a serious danger that a largely pro-EU Parliament will vote it down, and then we will back to square one, and in all likelihood, still in the EU thanks to Mr Barnier’s much prized transitional arrangement, which Theresa May has herself, has also strongly hinted at.