US Press: pick of the papers

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

1. Wall Street protesters need to be focused, practical (Chicago Sun Times)

Of course Occupy Wall Street makes sense, says this editorial. As do Occupy Chicago, Occupy Atlanta and all the other offshoots of this national grassroots protest movement against the lopsided power of corporate and Wall Street interests in American political and economic life.

2. Don't make it hard to vote (Philadelphia Inquirer)

In 14 states controlled by Republican legislators, voters face new restrictions that "could make it significantly harder ... to cast ballots in 2010," reports this editorial.

3. How to Fix California's Democracy Crisis (New York Times)

Direct democracy in California was meant to bring the people into the governance process, but voters have become consumers of television sound-bite campaigns, writes James S. Fishkin.

4. Who signed Anwar al-Awlaki's death warrant? (Washington Post)

Richard Cohen does not share Ron Paul's indignation, but does share his dismay: A U.S. citizen was killed on a functionary's say-so.

5. NASA needs clear mission (Omaha World Herald)

There is no way to know what advances might come from new NASA research, concedes this editorial. What is certain, though, is that without a farsighted commitment by NASA, those advances will not be made in America.

6. How the Campaign Season Got So Long (Wall Street Journal)

Thank Jimmy Carter for the seemingly interminable presidential horse race, says Larry J. Sabato -- and the state of Florida, too.

7. You Have to Gamble on Your Health (New York Times)

H. Gilbert Welch asks: Is screening for prostate cancer and breast cancer worth it? No matter what the task force recommends, there is no easy answer.

8. Morality, not theology (Los Angeles Times)

With his swipe at Mitt Romney's Mormonism at the Value Voters Summit, Robert Jeffress played into the worst stereotypes about the GOP as a bigoted and theocratic party for evangelical Christians alone, writes Jonah Goldberg.

9. Districts should be based on common interests (Boston Globe)

The districts should be as compact as possible, respect municipal boundaries as much as possible, and split up natural constituencies as little as possible, says this editorial.

10. This Is Not Your Father's Democratic Party (Roll Call)

For anyone old enough to remember Bucky Dent's memorable home run in the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox playoff, the current makeup and political strategy of the Democratic Party has to seem very odd, and while that was an asset in 2006 and 2008, it very definitely looks like a problem in 2012, writes Stuart Rothenberg.

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. 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 Wednesday 29 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.