Brexit: What Is Article 50?

This month on the blog we are going to be exploring Brexit and its effect on the worldwide economy. And in order to best approach understanding Brexit, it is important to know about Article 50.

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 as Article 49A) outlined for the first time a procedure under which a member state could voluntarily withdraw from the European Union. Article 50 states, as paraphrased from a consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, that:

1) Any member state may decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with its own constitutional requirements;

2) A member state that chooses to withdraw must notify the European Council of its intention, at which point the Union will negotiate and reach an agreement with that state concerning the future relationship of that state with the union; and

3) EU Treaties will cease to apply to the withdrawing member state, either at the starting date of the withdrawal agreement, or, failing that, two years after the member state notified the European Council of its decision to withdraw (the European Council, however, may unanimously choose to extend this two-year period).

Point number two is where things become the most complicated. According to Article 50, any withdrawal agreement must be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The agreement must be concluded by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, after being obtaining consent from the European Parliament. The process can take up to two years, unless the European Council consents to a longer negotiation period. Some experts warn that the process could take as long as ten years.

The UK’s departure from the European Union represents the first time this procedure will be used to legally navigate a member state’s departure from the European Union. This means that to date, Article 50 is completely untested.

Article 50 also dictates that a member state that has withdrawn from the European Union may ask to rejoin. The process for rejoining the EU after withdrawal is outlined in Article 49; essentially a former member state would have to go through the same process as a new applicant to rejoin. For the UK, this means that it would likely be forced to accept some of the EU principles it has thus far avoided—particularly use of the euro.

For now, the UK’s invoking of Article 50 means that the remaining 27 EU countries must meet to discuss withdrawal, and the UK must begin negotiations with the EU. A draft deal will be put to the European Council, and after two years all 27 countries in the EU can unanimously vote to extend the negotiation period. Without a unanimous vote, all EU treaties will immediately cease to apply to the UK. In the meantime during the negotiation period, some things will continue as normal. EU laws will continue to apply to the UK and British ministers will continue to participate in much of EU business. The UK, however, will not participate in internal EU discussions or in EU decisions concerning its own withdrawal.