Friday 23 February 2018

Article 50: All you need to know, does it matter, why it matters, what it means

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Credit: PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Credit: PA Wire
British PM Theresa May with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Brexit has been the biggest political decision the UK has faced in decades – and formal proceedings to leave the European Union begin this week.

The historic vote in the referendum last June means that the decision to exit the EU has been made but triggering Article 50 will start the complex negotiations.

The Irish living in the UK stand at around 500,000 and had the opportunity to vote on the referendum – but what does it mean for them, for us, and for the UK?

What exactly is Article 50?

Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon was introduced in 2009, and it provides for the exit of an EU member from the European Union.

In its guidelines, Article 50 specifies that the member country leaving, not only notify the EU council of its decision, but it must enter negotiations to establish an exit deal and take account of its future relationship with the Union.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 on Wednesday Picture: Reuters
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 on Wednesday Picture: Reuters

However, no state has ever left the EU so while the rules are there, they are brief, and so the path ahead is not entirely clear.

How and when will Article 50 be triggered?

These negotiations will officially kick off on Wednesday March 29, triggered by UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The UK government is set to deliver a letter to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk – with May expected to make a statement explaining the wording in the letter.

The draft set of guidelines for the divorce negotiations could be back with the UK within 48 hours, but a more formal response would require official endorsement from the leaders of all other member countries on a summit on April 29.

Is Article 50 revocable after it is ‘triggered’?

The former British diplomat who drafted Article 50, John Kerr, has said that the process can be reversed but both the UK and European Commission lawyers maintain the divorce clause is irrevocable.

After a member country notifies the council of its decision, it has a strict two year window to negotiate the new deal. After this time frame, it will no longer be subject to EU treaties.

So what happens then – will a deal be struck?

The day after Article 50 is triggered, Brexit secretary David Davis is set to publish the UK government “great repeal bill” that establishes an end to the authority of EU law.

With the UK set to leave the EU by March 29, 2019, it is understood that negotiations will be around legal and trading relations with the bloc.

A bigger hill to climb than the exit itself, a comprehensive trade deal requires unanimity among EU member states.

In January, Theresa May warned: “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain” – and said she is prepared to walk away from negotiations if she doesn’t get the deal she wants.

Are we expecting the negotiations to be done this year?

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier maintains that there will be less than 18 months of real negotiating time as the first face-to-face meeting is unlikely to happen before May – and after the French presidential election.

John Kerr, meanwhile, believes the government has a less than 50pc chance of securing an amicable exit within the timeframe, prompting “a decade of uncertainty”.

The UK wants to agree any transition measures by March 2018.

The issues Ireland faces as Britain leaves the EU

Apart from the trade deal, another key area that will need attention is the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British subjects living abroad.

The UK government ruled out giving EU citizens guaranteed protections before the start of talks, so many believe these will be using as “bargaining chips” during negotiations.

One of the big issues for Ireland will be how the Republic and North of the country interact with the re-establishment of borders a possibility that has already been highlighted by British chancellor George Osborne.

From an economic perspective, while Ireland’s dependence on the UK as a trade partner has waned in the most recent past, depending on what kind of trade deal Britain would establish with the EU then that could have repercussions here.


1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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