LONDON — Britain voted back in June to leave the European Union. But the process can begin only when the government invokes a treaty provision — Article 50 — that sets out the basics of a withdrawal.
What is Article 50?
Article 50 is the part of the European Union treaty that lays down the procedure for a member to leave the 28-nation bloc. It was drafted under the Treaty of Lisbon, which was meant to streamline the bloc’s decision-making.
Has anyone ever used Article 50?
No. In fact, the treaty’s architects never expected it to be used. Although no country has quit before, Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, left the European Union’s forerunner entity in the 1980s.
Who can invoke it?
A member country that wants to leave. Yet precisely who in Britain has the right to invoke Article 50 is the issue of a legal challenge. Prime Minister Theresa May believes that she can do so without Parliament, under powers known as the royal prerogative. But Britain’s High Court does not agree, and has ruled that lawmakers must be consulted. The government plans to appeal.
What happens once it is invoked?
Under Article 50, negotiations on withdrawal must be completed within two years. That deadline can be extended, but only with the agreement of all European Union member states.
What if Britain and the E.U. can’t reach a deal in two years?
If there is no agreement to extend the negotiating period, and no deal, then Britain would find itself outside the bloc and without any preferential status with the European Union.
Can the process be reversed?
The British government says no, and that once it is invoked, Britain will have to leave the union. But several legal experts disagree, including one of the authors of the provision. As yet, this has not been tested.