Since the EU referendum set the UK on course to leave the EU, Article 50 has been much discussed. But what is Article 50? It’s part of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which amended the constitutional base of the EU, and it sets out the conditions for any member state to leave the European Union.
Article 50 sets out that any state leaving the EU shall notify the EU, then negotiate and agree a framework for its withdrawal from the EU. Once Article 50 is invoked (i.e. once notice has been given), the withdrawing state will remain a member for two years or until the withdrawal agreement has been agreed by a qualified majority of the member states and the European parliament.
The two-year limit can be extended, but only with the unanimous agreement of the member states – which, given the fractious nature of withdrawal negotiations, could be a difficult condition to meet. The upshot of this is that Article 50 leaves open the possibility of a nation exiting the EU without its new relationship with the EU being in place.
That’s why the timing of Article 50 is being so fervently discussed, with some urging immediate notification of the EU in order to expedite discussions why others argue for a strategically timed notification when the UK is well-placed to negotiate new treaties. A third group pushes the interpretation that the referendum was merely advisory and could be disregarded, with Article 50 never being invoked – although this option would open up a heated confrontation with the electorate.