Article 50 was triggered by British Prime Minister Theresa May on March 29th, 2017. This formally began the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union, which is predicted to take up to two years to complete. By April 2019, if all goes according to the government’s plan, Britain will no longer be an EU member state.
But what does article 50 do, what has happened since Theresa May enacted it, and what do the next two years hold?
Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally, and outlines the procedure for doing so, giving the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal. Once article 50 has been enacted, it can only be stopped with the unanimous consent of all member states.
‘Once article 50 has been enacted, it can only be stopped with the unanimous consent of all member states.’
In reality, the process of leaving the EU is likely to be lengthy and involve an imminent number of disagreements, stemming both from the EU, the UK government and its devolved assemblies, and within the British population. This is partly because any deal must be approved by a ‘qualified majority’ of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament. This throws up a number of issues with what exactly the end result will be, meaning it is practically inevitable that neither the Brexiteers nor the Remainers will be given a deal they are happy with.
The debate over Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the coast of Spain, is one such example of a diplomatic issue which will have to be resolved in negotiations. Issues over Gibraltar have arisen in light of the fact that 96% of Gibraltar residents voted against Brexit. Spain has been awarded a veto over future EU deals of Gibraltar, giving the country its strongest influence over the territory since they lost control over it to the British in 1704. A European Council document has been drawn up stating that any Brexit deal will not apply to Gibraltar without an agreement between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK. There is an assumed underlying risk that such developments could signify Gibraltar’s sovereignty being relinquished to Spain, or, perhaps more realistically, a situation whereby Gibraltarians can remain in the EU and enjoy joint British and Spanish nationality.
‘The debate over Gibraltar, is one such example of a diplomatic issue which will have to be resolved in negotiations.’
Another extremely significant event which has appeared in light of the triggering of article 50 is the move by Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, to call for a second Scottish independence referendum. Scotland voted to remain in the EU by 62%, and many feel that the wishes of the Scottish people have been, are being, and are going to be ignored by the UK government in their negotiations. Sturgeon announced her plans to call for a second referendum before the official triggering of article 50, casting a shadow on the formality of the event at the end of March. Sturgeon referenced her manifesto on which she was elected which stated her desire for a second referendum, which passed through the Scottish parliament with a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed the SNP. Labour and Conservatives in Scotland are as opposed as they were with the first referendum, but Sturgeon has remained steadfast in her pledge to hold the referendum within the timeframe of negotiations. This means before spring 2019, but after the terms of the Brexit deal are largely known. Theresa May has said that “now is not the time” for a second Scottish independence referendum.
Debate over trade deals and negotiations also look set to frustrate progress for businesses both in the UK and in Europe waiting to see the impact Brexit will have on their ability to trade. It has been confirmed that Britain will not be given a free trade deal by the EU within the negotiating period. This suggests a tough time ahead for British negotiators seeking to calm anxieties at home over the future of British trade, as well as those of the British population who are concerned about the potential for an economic downturn. It has been said that trade deals between Britain and other EU member states cannot go ahead until significant progress has been made with negotiations, putting many British businesses and manufacturers in limbo for two years.
Bearing all this in mind, it appears as though we are looking at a hard Brexit in the approach to negotiations as things currently stand, but this doesn’t necessarily stem from British intents. There is a high possibility that those within the EU are going to make the negotiating period a tough and exasperating time for the UK. This is in order to dissuade other countries from following suit, whilst there will definitely be a great deal of internal political upheaval. It seems all to early to say.bookmark me