Article 50 has been triggered. What next?

31 March 2017 - by Connor

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May formally notified the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union (EU) by triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and commencing the formal process of withdrawal.

Article 50 gives the UK and EU two years to negotiate the terms of their new relationship, although this can be extended subject to the unanimous agreement of the remaining 27 member states.

Article 50 allows the state in question to make “arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union but this short statement belies the complexity of the task ahead.

Trade, the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, cross-border security, environmental commitments, not to mention the future of the land border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, are all issues that will need to be resolved.

In January, the Prime Minister outlined her 12-point plan for ensuring “a smooth and orderly Brexit”. In this, she highlighted the importance of securing a free trade agreement, controlling immigration and maintaining a “seamless” border within Ireland.

On Thursday, the government issued a Great Repeal Bill white paper setting out its proposals for “a functioning statute book” in the wake of Brexit being completed.

Above all, Mrs May has made clear her objective of rendering “a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union.

There are a number of key dates to keep in mind:

  • On 29 April of this year, the EU will meet to agree a common position on the negotiations;

  • Guidelines will likely be published in May, just as negotiations formally get under way;

  • In late 2017, the government’s Great Repeal Bill  to end the authority of EU law by converting all its provisions into UK law on the day it leaves the EU  is scheduled to go through stages of parliamentary scrutiny;

  • It is expected to receive royal assent in early 2018. Westminster may pass further laws in mid-2018 to cover any gaps in legislation;

  • If the parties are to adhere to the current timetable, negotiations will be completed by October 2018 in order to give Westminster, the European Council and European Parliament time to vote on any deal.

Article 50 states that negotiations “shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.” This requirement for a qualified majority means that 55 per cent of EU member states  representing at least 65 per cent of the total EU population  must support the deal for it to stick. 

The EU shared its strategy for Brexit negotiations this morning, arguing for a “phased approach”. EU Council President Donald Tusk suggested talks on a trade deal could begin once "sufficient progress" is made on a separation settlement with the UK.

Northern Ireland

So, what about Northern Ireland? In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis clarified the government's view on any future status of Northern Ireland within the European Union.

That is, should the people of Northern Ireland for a united Ireland, they would "be in a position of becoming part of an existing EU member state, rather than seeking to join the EU as a new independent state".

In Wednesday’s letter announcing its withdrawal, the government set out seven negotiating principles, one of which is: “We must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Addressing the House of Commons after the triggering of Article 50, the Prime Minister hailed “an historic moment. Over the next two years, the government will hope that its priorities can be accommodated through a new relationship with the EU. The final outcome will lie not just with the UK but also 27 member states.

The DUP, which advocated a leave vote in the 2016 referendum, welcomed the Article 50 development. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said that to ensure the best deal for the UK’s devolved regions, it is important that Northern Ireland is represented at the negotiating table.

Ulster Unionist Party MP Tom Elliott also welcomed the news, but his MEP colleague Jim Nicholson was more cautious, calling on the government to prioritise close trade with the EU and the constitutional integrity of the UK in its negotiations.

Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, described the triggering of Article 50 as a “disaster for Ireland, socially, politically and economically”, and said momentum is building across Europe to secure special designated post-Brexit status for Northern Ireland.

Whilst the Alliance Party’s deputy leader, Dr Stephen Farry MLA, described Wednesday's event as a “major mistake” and a “tragedy” for the UK, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the government’s move as “an act of savagery” given that the majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU and that there is no power-sharing Executive in place.