US Press: pick of the papers

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

1. Who Decided That This Election Should Be About Sex? (New York Times)

David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss the surprising role debates over contraception, abortion and unwed mothers have played so far in the campaign.

2. Two miscast candidates (Washington Post)

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum still look like weak nominees, writes George F. Will.

3. Big cases on high court docket highlight need to allow cameras (Boston Globe) ($)

This editorial argues that giving viewers a chance to witness oral arguments before the Supreme Court would enhance respect for the Constitution, the court, and its procedures.

4. Obama's defense of religion (Chicago Tribune)

Steve Chapman explains how the President has expanded freedom for the faithful.

5. Getting Iran to back down on its nuclear program (Washington Post)

A threat of overwhelming force could force retreat, writes David Ignatius.

6. The Incredible Disappearing 2013 Obama Budget (Roll Call) ($)

Stan Collender notes that even in a city like Washington, D.C., the speed with which the Obama budget went from lead story to old news was impressive.

7. Teacher's right (Chicago Sun Times)

Against the ruling of an Illinois public school, this editorial argues that kids need to know the history of the n-word

8. Healthcare reform's missing link -- nurse practitioners (Los Angeles Times)

Millions more Americans soon may be searching for primary care providers. Nurse practitioners can do the job and save taxpayer funds, says Patricia Dennehy.

9. NY Knicks' Jeremy Lin shows no sign of cover jinx (New York Daily News)

A second straight Sports Illustrated cover can't slow the media sensation caused by this basketball star, writes Filip Bondy.

10. US leadership at World Bank remains critical (Washington Times)

Robert Zoellick's announcement that he would not seek another term as president of the World Bank has begun anew an old debate: Senator John Kerry asks: should an American continue to lead this institution?

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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.