Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) is the red button for the nuclear option of withdrawal from the EU, and in its design, it was never really, truly envisioned to be pressed. Without testing, and without precedent, we are left with no idea of the potential fallout of pressing that red button. Compared to the quasi-constitutionism of Article 2 TEU evoking the values ‘common to the Member States’ of ‘pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between men and women’; or the brutal legalism of Title VII of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) on competition, tax and the approximation of laws; Article 50 TEU is anaemic. It is, essentially, a button triggering a countdown clock, which is on a comparable level of advancement to the 1980s floppy disk.
The two-year countdown
Triggering Article 50 TEU will begin a two-year countdown to the end of UK Membership of the Union. Within that two-year period an agreement determining the withdrawal arrangements and the future relationship with the Union must be made. Barring a unanimous decision to extend the period, at the end of two years from the point of notification, the UK will no longer be a Member. The Treaties, and all rights and duties therein, cease to apply.
But now, as the British political establishment play a game of “pass the red button”, we are faced with some confounding, and concerning questions from a rights’ perspective. Likely to be lost in the two-year scramble for a political and trade agreement between the UK and EU, which will attempt at all costs to avoid the fall-back position of the application of WTO trade rules, are the very rights and values held as common between the (ex-)Member State(s). During that two-year period, EU law and (pertinently) EU rights will continue to apply in the UK. Free movement will still be (from a legal perspective) free, and claimants may still rely on their EU rights in the Courts. But then what? What happens when the clock strikes zero? Continue reading