3 july 2016, article 50 ways to leave your lover...

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

I must credit the economist for the title, but will quote a more eminent source for what this exit clause actually means. As it says in the book (p131), "Lisbon includes a specific provision (Article 50) on voluntary withdrawal to help ensure that any such unlikely happening would take place in an orderly fashion. First, the Member State wishing to withdraw notifies the European Council of its intention. It and the Union then negotiate a withdrawal agreement, setting out withdrawal arrangements and regulating the future bilateral relationship. The Council concludes this agreement, by QMV (without the representative of the withdrawing Member State), after obtaining the European Parliament's consent... The Treaties cease to apply to the departing country, either as per the withdrawal agreement, or two years after the initial notification, implying a withdrawal may occur even if no agreement is reached." What do we learn from this ? Firstly, only the uk can trigger the process; good for the uk. However, once its triggered, the axe comes down automatically after two years, so bad. If things get timed out, the eu's arrangements are intact, but the uk's potentially a blank sheet. As to the agreement, only a (qualified, adjusted to exclude the uk) majority is needed, good-ish for the uk. However to extend the two years it's unanimity; very bad. The european parliament needs to agree the agreement before the council; hard to say, but probably bad. Finally, this can all just be about a withdrawal agreement and not the negotiation of a new trading relationship or anything like that. Though the treaty allows for something broader (the negotiations are for an agreement "taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union"), my strong suspicion is it allows the eu to present a hardball ultimatum if it wants, i.e. a take the lock, stock and barrel of eu law norway-style or leave-and-negotiate-more-later approach. This would mean no trade talks not only until after article 50 is triggered but until the rather narrower withdrawal agreement is negotiated, signed & ratified, for which a two-year period looks highly optimistic; very bad indeed. No wonder the timeframe for pulling that trigger is gently receding by a few weeks every time a prime-ministerial candidate makes a speech. Three years, with a uk general election looming if it is hasn't already taken place, is probably more than enough time for the wheel to turn again before the uk population next flexes its democratic legitimacy, this time on the actual terms of what leave means. What a shame about the years of conflict, confusion and contraction we're going to see between now and then. The economist got it right, quoting abba eban, "nations always do the right thing - once they exhaust all the alternatives".