US press: pick of the papers

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

1. Obama's lucky break (Washington Post)

It's nine months until Election Day, but President Obama is already bringing out the big guns, writes Dana Milbank.

2. The Zuckerberg Tax (New York Times)

To fix a flaw in our tax system, mark-to-market taxation would require the superwealthy to pay at least a little income tax on their unsold stock shares, says David S. Miller.

3. Empowering Burma's voices of change (Politico)

After almost a half-century of military dictatorship, Burma is now sending signals that it is ready to change direction and rebuild its relationship with the United States, writes Sen. John F. Kerry.

4. Obama and Romney exhibit striking similarities (Washington Post)

The general election is shaping up as a contest between two remarkably similar men, says Ruth Marcus.

5. ObamaCare's Great Awakening (Wall Street Journal)

HHS tells religious believers to go to hell. The public notices, says this editorial.

6. All eyes on Israel: Will it act against world's best interest? (Star Tribune)

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is refreshingly frank, sometimes stunningly so, writes Trudy Rubin.

7. America's culture is coming apart at the seams (Chicago Tribune)

This may sound a little odd, but I believe that I need to pay more attention to white people, writes Clarence Page.

8. What Wikipedia Won't Tell You (New York Times)

Policy makers had recognized a constitutional (and economic) imperative to protect American property from theft, to shield consumers from counterfeit products and fraud, and to combat foreign criminals who exploit technology to steal American ingenuity and jobs, writes Carey H. Sherman.

9. 'Super' subliminal politics in Chrysler ad? (San Francisco Chronicle)

It would be hard to craft a more perfect soft-sell pitch for President Obama's re-election than Chrysler's "It's Halftime in America" Super Bowl spot featuring Clint Eastwood, argues this editorial.

10. Why Mitt Romney? He's ready to rebuild American success (Washington Times)

The time has come for the Republican Party to close the deal. I believe Mitt Romney is the best choice for the presidency, says Donald J. Trump.

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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.