Expert comment: Triggering Article 50 – where are we now?

Matthew J. Homewood, principal lecturer in European Union Law at Nottingham Law School, reflects on Brexit negotiations and when, if ever, Article 50 might be triggered.

Matthew J. Homewood, principal lecturer in European Union Law at Nottingham Law School, reflects on Brexit negotiations and when, if ever, Article 50 might be triggered.

As Michael Gove enters the Tory leadership race and Boris Johnson departs stage left, the only thing that is clear in the wake of June 23rd's momentous events is just how unclear everything is. Assertions, promises and pledges made one day are forgotten, reworked and denied the next. Voters anticipating a swift withdrawal from EU membership may be starting to wonder when, and indeed if, they'll get what they voted for.

In the run up to the referendum, whilst David Cameron's official spokeswoman carefully stopped short of committing to an immediate triggering of Article 50 TEU following an out vote, the inference was that the government, in respecting that decision, would begin the (immediate) process of leaving. A week after the UK's leave vote, the prospect of Article 50 being triggered seems far from imminent.

Some matters concerning this now infamous Treaty Article have been clarified over recent days. There were initially suggestions from some that Article 50 could be triggered by merely communicating the outcome of the referendum to the European Council. Not so, it transpired. Similarly, there was talk of the EU itself being able to pull the proverbial trigger. Again, not so. It is therefore now clear that it is for the departing member state to trigger Article 50 by informing of a formal notification to leave. As to the timing of the triggering act, such clarity is lacking.

Of course, the significance of this is that once Article 50 is triggered the clock will start ticking on the period for negotiation. There will be a finite time in which to carry out negotiations and the potential extension of that time will be outside of the UK's control. If negotiations do not lead to a deal when the alarm rings, the UK may find itself without a deal at all. As such, it would be wise to have a clear indication of what type of deal would be on the table in place of what we currently have as an EU member state.

Unfortunately, the UK and the rest of the EU seem locked in a perpetual "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" stand-off. EU leaders are pushing for a speedy process but have repeatedly stated that they are unwilling to enter even informal discussions until Article 50 has been triggered. Meanwhile, the uncertainty that the current impasse brings is proving problematic for all parties.

A week after the UK’s leave vote, the prospect of Article 50 being triggered seems far from imminent.

Matthew J. Homewood, Principal Lecturer in European Union Law, Nottingham Law School

For the time being, the pressure is relieved somewhat. What must surely have been one of the most difficult dinners that David Cameron has ever attended has now passed, and the UK has the distraction of a contest for a new Prime Minister to get out of the way first.

In the meantime, conflicting hints at what a post-Brexit deal might look like are beginning to tentatively emerge. However, as time ticks by and the possibility of a subsequent general election are mooted alongside a recognition that MPs will need to vote on a bill to allow the UK to leave the EU, more and more people are beginning to wonder whether Article 50 will ever actually be triggered.

Matthew J. Homewood
Principal Lecturer in European Union Law
Nottingham Law School

There will be a finite time in which to carry out negotiations and the potential extension of that time will be outside of the UK’s control.

Matthew J. Homewood

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Expert comment: Triggering Article 50 – where are we now?

Published on 4 July 2016
  • Category: Press; Nottingham Law School

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