US Press: pick of the papers

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

1. G.O.P. Greek tragedy (New York Times)

With Sanctorum and Robo-Romney in a race to the bottom, the once ruthless Republican Party seems to have pretty much decided to cave on 2012 and start planning for a post-Obama world, writes Maureen Dowd.

2. Santorum's failed pandering to blue-collar workers (Washington Post)

What Santorum was obliquely referring to is his sense that today's college and university campuses are hotbeds of socialism and liberal theology, says Kathleen Parker.

3. There be dragons (New York Times)

In medieval times, areas known to be dangerous or uncharted were often labeled on maps with the warning: "Beware, here be dragons." That is surely how mapmakers would be labeling the whole Middle East today, says Thomas Friedman

4. The conservative case for foreign aid (Wall Street Journal) (£)

Reagan knew that diplomacy and development policy neutralize threats before they become crises, says John Kerry.

5. Mormon ritual is no threat to Jews (Boston Globe) (£)

The Mormon practice of "baptism by proxy" is eccentric, not offensive, because in Judaism, conversion after death is a concept without meaning, writes Jeff Jacoby.

6. Mitt Romney's acceptance speech, in (mostly) his own words (Washington Post)

Dana Milbank imagines who Mitt Romney might thank should he receive the Republican nomination: Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse to name a few.

7. Race to the far right dims GOP's chances in November (Detroit Free Press)

The duration and intensity of the past month's intramural bloodletting will make it much harder for either to compete for the independent voters that will be decisive in November's general election, writes this editorial.

8. Auto bailout worked, candidates should admit it (USA Today)

The two leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination keep pounding away, unmindful of how divorced from economic reality they appear, says this editorial.

9. Canada's carbon lesson: Just put a price on it (LA Times)

Five years ago, the province of British Columbia launched a quest to slash its carbon emissions. Here's what it has learned, writes Chris Wood.

10. On social media, teens are the experts (Philadelphia Inquirer)

We must talk early and often to our teens about both the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the difficulties of living in a world where more of what they do is public, writes Amy Jordan.

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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.