What the actual fuck is Article 50 and why should I even care?
Now that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, the process of withdrawing from Europe begins.
Over the next few months we're going to hear an awful lot about 'Article 50' and how it will impact the plans to leave the EU. But what exactly is it?
Here's our crash course to Article 50 and what it means for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.
What the hell is Article 50?
The term Article 50 refers to the 50th article of the Lisbon Treaty, which determines the rules for a country leaving the European Union.
But we just voted to leave, can't we just leave?
Technically the UK could just withdraw from the EU without negotiating terms but if you want Britain to have any sort of relationship with any other country ever, then terms need to be agreed.
The UK government willingly signed up for the Lisbon Treaty in 2007 and it came into effect two years later. Pulling out of the EU without negotiating terms would be breaking that agreement and would seriously devalue the UK's ability to ever reach an agreement with another country, even one not in the EU.
I don't remember voting for that.
That's because you didn't. Unlike a country like the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom doesn't actually have a constitution and so the government is free to negotiate these deals on your behalf without ever involving the public. Good old British democracy in action.
Well if it was signed in 2007, that would have been under Labour. We don't have to live by their mistakes!
Yes, you do. Just because there is a different party in government doesn't mean you can break any international agreement you like. That would be chaos and make it impossible for the UK to actually sign these agreements in the future.
Why are we being punished for leaving the EU?
Well, put simply, the EU doesn't want the UK to leave. It looks really bad for them. Article 50 was supposed to be a deterrent to any member states leaving the Union. The UK is basically going back on a promise is made to be a part of the European Union and thus it must face the consequences.
UK last month : “HAHA America your politics are so fucked!”
UK today : “…”
— Seb Lee-Delisle (@seb_ly) June 24, 2016
Okay then, what does Article 50 even say?
There are five points to Article 50, which reads as follows:
- Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
- A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
- The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
- For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
- If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.
So we only have two years to get our shit together?
Well, not quite. The result of this referendum doesn't actually trigger Article 50. In fact, the result of the referendum isn't even legally binding so the government could choose to ignore the vote entirely if they wanted to.
Also, as stated in section three of Article 50, this time can be extended if the European Council and British government agree to do so.
How can they just ignore the will of the people? That doesn't seem very democratic.
It goes back to the UK not having a constitution. It is highly unlikely that they will, but in theory they could.
David Cameron has stepped down as Prime Minister and it seems highly likely that the Conservative Party will choose a new leader who supported the Leave campaign.
Right, so when are we going to trigger Article 50?
Well that's where it gets a bit complicated again. It's hard to say, really. Cameron says he wants to have a replacement by the time October's Conservative Party conference rolls around.
Whoever replaces Cameron then may immediately press the big red Article 50 button, or try and buy themselves more time to negotiate the withdrawal.
So you're telling me this could drag on forever?
Again, technically yes. There is no rush from the United Kingdom right now to start the process as the we await the announcement of a new Prime Minister. Two years is not a long time to unravel the UK's interdependence with the EU, so the government may want to try and start negotiations before actually activating Article 50. EU heads, however, don't seem very open to this idea.
#BREAKING EU chiefs say Britain must start exit process 'as soon as possible'
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) June 24, 2016
But if we've already announced our intentions to leave, can't the EU just say we've triggered Article 50?
Simply put, no. The EU has to wait for the UK to formally announce its plans to leave the EU.
What happens if we never trigger it?
Well, then the UK will never actually leave the EU. Triggering Article 50 is currently the only way to leave the EU. So long as the UK doesn't trigger Article 50, it is still a member state of the EU and retains all the same rights.
But the longer the UK leaves it to trigger Article 50, the more pissed off the EU establishment will likely be and it will make the terms of leaving more difficult.
The UK had agreed new reforms within the EU for themselves but EU leaders announced on Friday that this deal "will now not take effect and ceases to exist. There will be no renegotiation."
At least we can finally get a good deal out of the EU.
On Thursday the United Kingdom was the fifth largest economy in the world, just hours after the announcement of the Leave victory the UK had dropped below France into sixth. This diminishes the UK's negotiating power somewhat.
Furthermore, agreements made under Article 50 will have to be ratified by the remaining 27 states with each of them retaining a veto power over any aspect they want. From the Republic of Ireland to Latvia to Greece, there are a lot of countries with a lot of different vested interests in either working with or punishing the UK.
Who cares? If it all goes tits up we can just rejoin the EU.
Not so fast, for the UK to attempt to rejoin the EU they would trigger Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, which basically means the UK would have to reapply for EU membership just like any other country.
Under these circumstances, any of the 27 remaining states could veto the UK's re-entry and even if they didn't, it is unlikely the UK would be given the same special conditions it currently enjoys in the EU.