Britain is divorcing Europe. To be honest, it was always a marriage of convenience; the passion was never really there (notwithstanding the touching “Hug a Brit” social media campaign run during the referendum, whose poignant final tweet reads: “Sadly we didn’t hug enough.”).
Of course, just because the marriage is over doesn’t mean that the (unhappy) couple shouldn’t craft an effective working relationship. Trade, business, and tourism must continue. For the moment, however, we must deal with the thorny issue of officially filing the divorce papers.
Under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, withdrawing from the European Union is handled by Article 50. Once a Member State has formally invoked Article 50 and declared their intention to leave, the clock starts ticking. After two years, unless an agreement has been reached or there is unanimous approval from all parties for an extension, the UK would be booted out of the Single Market and presumably revert to WTO rules on trade. This would entail hefty tariffs, but also raise all sorts of technical barriers to trade.
We had a comment sent in by David via our Suggest a Debate page. He believes that a debate about Article 50 would be interesting:
Please debate when should the U.K. invoke Article 50, if ever, for the benefit of Europe. And may I suggest approximately ten years and only if all EU countries agree?
Many Europeans politicians have been urging the UK to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, because they fear uncertainty will weigh down on the European economy. However, experts caution that negotiations will likely take much longer than two years, and possibly as long as a decade. One mooted possibility was to begin informal negotiations before invoking Article 50 some time down the line, but the European Commission swiftly poured cold water on that idea.
Once Article 50 is activated, the die is cast. The UK will be cut of out internal EU decision-making (as well as all decisions regarding the EU side of negotiations with the UK), and will be unable to change its mind and cancel Brexit unless by unanimous consent from all EU countries. Any final agreement will also need the consent of all EU governments, the European parliament, and probably all national parliaments as well. That might be a tall order within the Article 50 time limit.
Obviously, the UK needs time to find a new Prime Minister. After that, however, delaying too much could add to the economic uncertainty, and might frustrate Britain’s negotiating partners at a time that clear heads are needed. It could also upset the British public, who may believe they have voted to leave promptly.
When should Britain invoke Article 50 and officially begin Brexit? Can the negotiations be completed in less than two years, or will they drag on for a decade? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!