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‘Brexit’, Article 50 TEU and the Constitutional Significance of the UK Referendum

Published on July 6, 2016        Author: 

This post tries to answer two questions:

First, who has the right to trigger the process of Article 50 TEU under the UK constitution? Second, what is constitutional significance of the UK referendum?

Article 50 TEU is the provision that governs the process of withdrawal of an existing EU Member State from the Union. The provision was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon and it has not been used thus far. This provision is drafted in a way that is not too prescriptive with the clear intention for allowing a considerable margin for manoeuvring in the ensuing negotiations.

Article 50 (1) stipulates that a Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements whereas Article 50 (2) provides that the relevant Member State must notify its intention to the European Council.

It is clear that once the process of Article 50 begins, the negotiating position of the Union is strengthened. This is because Article 50 (3) TEU imposes a time frame for the completion of negotiations (two years). If at the end of this period the EU and the Member State fail to reach an agreement, the Treaties cease to apply to that Member State thus leading to a disorderly withdrawal. The two year period may be extended by the European Council acting unanimously. Since the costs of a disorderly withdrawal are apparently higher for the Member State that leaves the Union, it is obvious that the two year time-frame hangs like a sword of Damocles over its shoulders. This means that the question of when the process begins and on whose initiative is critical.

The ‘who’ and ‘when’ under the UK Constitutional Arrangements Regarding the Invocation of Article 50 TEU

The question of who has the power to trigger Article 50 TEU has attracted a deserved amount of attention by scholars and commentators. Most of the scholars agree that EU partners cannot trigger the withdrawal process (see for example Marl Elliott, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Nick Barber, Tom Hickman and Jeff King).

This is certainly the case from a legal point of view however, it is possible for the EU to increase the pressure on the UK to trigger the renegotiation process. How? Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, European Union