What Does Article 50 Mean for the UK and Europe?

British Prime Minister Theresa May officially triggered Article 50 this past week, formally beginning the UK’s breakup with the EU. 

On Wednesday, March 29, the PM’s aides delivered a letter to Brussels, seat of the European government, that formally gives notice of the UK’s intent to leave the European Union. The document activated what is known as Article 50.

That letter reads in part:

On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.  As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans.  Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states.  On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper.  Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.

[...]

From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so.  When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.

It goes on to lay out in broad terms what the UK hopes to gain from this change, while repeating the UK’s desire to maintain a good relationship with the EU.

This formal notice now begins what will hopefully be a two-year process of negotiation, whereby the UK and Europe will slowly unravel and reform their laws, determine the extent of European oversight — for example, should the European courts have the final say over UK human rights matters? — and decide how trade and energy deals will be formulated. There is no guarantee that this process will take only two years, however, and some experts expect the time frame to run closer to a decade.

The UK has indicated that it wants as quick a negotiation as possible. In fact, in the letter Prime Minister May even warns the EU that unless a deal is reached on the key areas of security and trade, the consequences for both the UK and Europe could be significant. Critics have accused May of using security as a bargaining chip, but supporters contend that it is a reasonable point to make.

It is unlikely that a protracted time frame would unduly harm Europe as a whole, but it certainly would put a strain on the UK economy. As a result, the UK leaders ultimately know that the speed of this process is up to Europe. And should European leaders decide to drag their feet, that could spell trouble for the UK.

UK internal politics will also come into play

As noted above, with Scotland’s government currently pushing for another independence referendum vote, the prime minister seems keen to stress that the UK will leave the EU as one government body — again reasserting that there should be no second independence vote before Brexit is complete.

However, there is a clear line in the letter indicating that powers will be shared with the various devolved governments where warranted. It’s unlikely that this statement will be enough to appease Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or her supporters in the SNP, though.

Conservatives escalate tensions with Spain over Gibraltar.

Former Conservative leader Lord Michael Howard has been heavily criticized for claiming that Prime Minister Theresa May would be prepared to go to war should Spain use the EU Brexit negotiations to challenge UK sovereignty over the British territory of Gibraltar.

This statement has been called imprudent for several reasons. While it is true that Spain has been given veto power in the Brexit negotiations with Europe, the country has made no move to use that power to take control of Gibraltar. In fact, Spain has specifically said it will not do so. Furthermore, Gibraltar’s leadership has been assured that Brexit will not affect the territory and that Gibraltar will remain in charge of its governance.

Howard’s comments were immediately slammed by a number of politicians from across the liberal and conservative divide. The major concern was that, less than a week after Article 50 was triggered, high profile Conservatives were already discussing potential military action with European neighbors. And that sets a troubling tone for the negotiations to come.

However one major item to emerge from the triggering of Article 50 this past week has been a general consensus that if the UK is to leave Europe, it now must do so in a way that benefits not just the UK elite, but also the UK’s poorest. After all, low-income people in the UK have often relied on European safeguards, such as disability cover and human rights legislation, to ensure they are protected.

The next two years, therefore, won’t just see negotiations between Europe and the UK. The UK’s leaders must also show their poorest and most vulnerable citizens that Brexit really will mean a better life for everyone.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

76 comments

KimJ M
KimJ M9 months ago

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KimJ M
KimJ M10 months ago

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KimJ M
KimJ M10 months ago

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KimJ M
KimJ M10 months ago

Thanks

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KimJ M
KimJ M10 months ago

Thanks

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KimJ M
KimJ M10 months ago

Thanks

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Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Carl R
Carl R1 years ago

thanks!!!!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Thanks

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powers1 years ago

Thanks.

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