Following months of intrigue, speculation and rumour, Theresa May has finally triggered Article 50 – formally notifying the European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the bloc. The invocation of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon will get the clock ticking on the supposed two year process – however many argue that this will in fact take far longer than the intended exit date of April 2019.

Mrs May has outlined in the past that “no deal is better than a bad deal” so if the government fails to secure, what it believes to be a ‘good’ deal, it will take the UK into the Brexit wilderness without an agreement. Trying to unravel 43 years of deals and treaties spanning seemingly infinite issues will be far from a simple task, even more so considering it has never been done before.

The European Commission will now get to work attempting to establish guidelines on the negotiation process. This will be no easy undertaking. It has been predicted this will take at least three months to fully publish the guidelines, meaning that no substantive discussions between the UK and the EU27 will take place until at least the summer. These procedures will again have to be approved by the Foreign Affairs Council, made up of EU27’s Foreign and Defence Ministers.

Further complication is then added by the fact that there is no precedent for these types of talks and thus who has a seat at the table is far from a foregone conclusion. The European Parliament have been lobbying consistently for months to ensure that they have a voice at the table, though this is not a privilege automatically offered to them and remains in the balance, despite the final deal having to pass through a vote in the Parliament. Another obstacle will be how the talks take place – on a case-by-case approach, thematic, or several different topics covered in one large negotiation summit – all of these will impact on timings, format and consequently will continue to delay and perplex the exiting process.

EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier is known to want to secure the budget and the rights of citizens before anything else, because so many topics of the discussions are heavily interlinked, it is unlikely that such  landmark decisions such as cost and the movement of people can be made early in proceedings.

Looking further down the line, there has been much talk of a second UK referendum on the subject of the final deal – though this is highly unlikely. Even if such a vote were to take place or a change of government (equally as unlikely) sought to reverse the leaving process, now A50 has been trigged it would take the unanimous consent of all member states to allow the UK to go back on its decision to leave, regardless of the outcome of a referendum.

All in all, the invocation of Article 50 may well be a considerable anti-climax. Not too much will happen at the negotiating table for several months, and a lot will be caught up in internal bureaucracy. While the triggering has allowed for stakeholders to speak slightly more freely, there is little we know now that we didn’t know before Theresa May made the official move to leave. If anything, we now have far more questions that need answering.

Some milestones to look out for:

  • Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of leaders, the EU would give a first response within 48 hours of Article 50 being triggered, expect them by the end of this week.
  • Formal guidelines will need to be endorsed by a summit of the remaining 27 EU countries. Tusk announced on Tuesday that the event would be held on 29th April (held in between the two rounds of the French Presidential election, the latter taking place on 7th Mary)
  • May/June will see the EU-27 formally nominate the European Commission as their lead negotiator and will develop confidential directives giving the body a more detailed mandate.
  • Publication of the Great Repeal Bill in UK Parliament (TBA – likely to be announced in May Queen’s Speech and in Parliament by May)
  • 24th September – the German election
  • By December of this year, Barnier will seek to have completed the initial divorce discussions, following his ‘divorce-first’ approach to the proceedings.
  • Finally by March 2019, in theory, all negotiations will have been concluded allowing the UK to exit the European Union prior to the European Parliament election in May 2019.

Authored by: Harry Goodwin