US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. The Obama Presidency by the Numbers (Wall Street Journal)

The president constantly reminds us that he was dealt a difficult hand. But the evidence is overwhelming that he played it poorly, writes Michael J. Boskin.

2. What the doctor ordered (Los Angeles Times)

Patients should know if their doctors get paid by drug firms, argue Tracy Weber and Charles Ornstein.

3. A new way to remember 9/11 (Denver Post)

Ten years ago Sunday, Lynne Steuerle Schofield lost her mother, Norma Lang Steuerle, when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon.

4. Romney 1, Perry 0 (Washington Post)

Following the first debate, Michael Gerson considers the ex-Governor of Massachusetts the more authentic Republican presidential candidate.

5. India could be way out of Afghan war (Chicago Sun Times)

Something new needs to be injected into Afghan policy, writes this editorial; and it could come from New Delhi.

6. Squeezing Syria (Washington Post)

A WP editorial argues that tougher sanctions could help save the lives of innocents.

7. Casino bill is deeply flawed; rank and file should kill it (Boston Globe)

The long-awaited gambling compromise endorsed by Governor Patrick and legislative leaders is deeply flawed, full of the kind of special deals Patrick had warned against, claims this editorial.

8. Do We Still Need the Patriot Act? (New York Times) ($)

In 2001, in the weeks after Sept. 11, the law passed through Congress easily. But, asks this editorial debate, has it protected us?

9. Prison Progress (Detroit Free Press)

Maybe you were too busy firing up the grill for the holiday weekend to notice, says Jeff Gerrit, but Michigan's prison population dropped to the lowest level in 13 years last Friday.

10. Ideas for the mayor, big and small (Chicago Tribune)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked for it: Ideas on how to close the city's $635.7 million budget deficit, courtesy of Chicago Tribune readers.

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.