Brexit: Theresa May signs letter giving notice to EU members; here's what happens next
London: UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday signed the letter that will trigger Britain's exit from the European Union.
UK prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday signed the letter that will trigger Britain's exit from the European Union.
The letter, giving official notification to other 27 European Union (EU) members that Britain has invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, will be handed over to European Council president Donald Tusk by Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow on Thursday.
What is Article 50?
Article 50 is a passage in the European Constitution, explaining the process through which a member may leave the European Union (EU). Any country invoking article 50 automatically leaves the EU within two years, unless the 27 other EU members — unanimously — agree to extend the deadline.
So, is Britain out of the EU?
No. This letter merely signals that the process of negotiation for Britain to leave the EU has begun.
How long will it take?
According to a report in BBC, no one is sure exactly how long it will take. Or how it will work. Article 50 was created in 2009 and has never been used before. Former foreign secretary Philip Hammond said it could take up to six years for the UK to leave the EU as it has to be approved by 27 different parliaments, BBC reported.
A long, winding road ahead
What happens next? Divorce. And all the fighting and acrimony that comes with it.
The Economist reported that negotiations will take place in two parts: The first battle will be over money, assets, liabilities, the legal status of EU citizens in Britain and vice-versa. The final settlement has to be approved by a "qualified majority" of EU members (excluding Britain).
Then, negotiations move to future trade relations between Britain and the EU. Thus far, things are off to a rocky start. The two sides can't seem to agree on anything. The EU wants Britain to pay up before they leave, while Britain wants to focus on ironing out trade agreements before it leaves.
Quartz reported that the European Union officials estimate that the UK owes them $65 billion and want Britain to pay for the EU's infrastructure projects, accumulated liabilities, pensions of bureaucrats and long-term commitments.
However, according to a report in The Independent, the men who will be negotiating with the European Union, dubbed 'Brexiteers', think they can 'dramatically' reduce that amount.
According to legal documents circulated in the Department for Exiting the European Union by Martin Howe QC, a founding member of Lawyers for Britain, a group that campaigned for Brexit, the demand for Britain to pay into the EU budget after it leaves is "wholly without merit in law”, and “hard to see any credible basis upon which the UK could be said to be obliged” to pay for the deficit, The Independent reported.
And, to make things worse, the UK might actually insist that the EU owes them money. According to the legal documents, the UK has around €10.1 billion in the European Investment Bank. The documents conclude that the UK should be paid this money on exit.
What happens if they can't reach an agreement?
According to a report in The Guardian, while May has repeatedly said she is willing to walk away from a bad deal, things aren't that simple. Michael Barnier, chief negotiator for Brexit has warned of "severe consequences" for both parties if terms aren't agreed upon, including disruption to air transport, long queues at the Channel Port of Dover and disruption of supply chains, including the suspension of the delivery of nuclear material to the UK.
"It goes without saying that a no-deal scenario, while a distinct possibility, would have severe consequences for our people and our economies. It would undoubtedly leave the UK worse off," Barnier said, according to The Guardian.
According to The Economist, if Britain leaves the EU without terms being agreed upon, World Trade Organisation terms come into play. Meaning? Tariffs on cars, car parts, pharmaceuticals, and barriers on a whole host of services, including financial services.
While May has promised to "represent represent every person in the whole United Kingdom" during the negotiations, including EU nationals, who are worried about their future following Brexit, that's easier said than done.
With inputs from PTI
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