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EU Parliament confirms Article 50 is revocable & security is the UK’s new bargaining chip

Principles for Brexit talks have been revealed: timing is an issue & security is now a bargaining chip. But, thankfully, Article 50 is revocable.


Article 50 has been triggered and Brexit negotiations begin with both the UK and EU (well, the EU parliament) setting out its principles for the talks. The prime minister sent a letter and whilst we don’t have a detailed official response from the EU, the Guardian has a leaked copy of a draft resolution by the EU parliament on its principles. You can see copies of both at the bottom of this article.

In the draft resolution, there is something that puts the argument over the revocability of Article 50 to bed. Point L in the resolution states that Britain’s notification can be revoked but this is subject to conditions set out by the EU27.

… revocation of notification needs to be subject to conditions set by all EU27 so they cannot be used as a procedural device or abused in an attempt to improve the actual terms of the UK’s membership.

Brexit is not inevitable but the process for deciding the outcome has begun. Here’s on what we’ve taken from both documents. They also make clear that it can’t be used to improve our current membership terms. But it does suggest we could remain in the EU under our current terms.

Consequences and losing influence

In the prime minister’s Article 50 letter to EU council president Donald Tusk, there were plenty of warm words about the UK’s desire to have a “deep and special partnership” with the bloc. There was also an acknowledgement that the government does indeed appreciate the reality of Brexit.

In her letter, she accepts that the UK cannot remain members of the single market without accepting the four freedoms and that there can be “no cherry-picking”. The letter goes on to acknowledge that there are “consequences” to leaving the EU. These consequences include losing influence over the the rules that affect the EU’s economy and that should UK companies wish to trade within the EU, they will have to “align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part”.

This is the strongest statement the government has made with regard to what the consequences are of losing EU membership. It’s also an acknowledgement that the idea the UK is helpless under the EU is a complete myth. Basically, outside of the EU, we lose our influence on the rules that we’ll have to abide by to trade with Europe.

Timing already a sticking point

The UK’s notification letter maintains that the withdrawal and future EU-UK relationship can be agreed within the two-year timeframe. She refers to agreeing withdrawal “alongside” a future relationship four times in her letter. The EU parliament’s draft resolution states more strongly that “a future relationship agreement between the EU and UK as a third country can only be concluded once the UK has withdrawn from the EU”. The draft suggests that whilst negotiations on a future relationship can begin during the Article 50 process (as long as substantial progress has been made on a withdrawal agreement), it is unlikely that there will be an agreement within the two-year timeframe.

However, it’s clear from the EU parliament’s draft resolution that they believe that agreeing a transitional period is possible. But this must be limited to three years, with both parties under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and with the UK not having the full benefits of EU membership.

Security is the new bargaining chip

Theresa May’s letter appears to have turned up a new focus for the UK’s bargaining chip: security. In one of the many references to the “deep and special partnership” between the UK and EU, May said that this would take in both economic and security cooperation. She also adds that “in security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened”.

In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.

Theresa May, prime minister

Would the prime minister really consider not cooperating on security if a deal isn’t reached? In response to a question in the House of Commons about it, the prime minister denied she was using it as a threat. The Guardian’s politics live blog quotes May as saying “I go on to make very clear in the letter that not having arrangements, not having agreements, on these issues would not be in the interests of the UK and EU, and we should work to ensure that we secure a deal.”

The EU parliament’s draft resolution also refers to security cooperation. Under a section on “Future EU-UK relationship”, point 23 states that “whatever the outcome of negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, they cannot involve any trade-off between internal and external security including defence cooperation, on the one hand, and the future economic relationship, on the other hand.”

It’s hard to imagine the UK refusing to cooperate on security issues. If this is the government’s best bargaining chip, it really is in trouble.

Luckily, however, Article 50 is revocable.

If you haven’t already seen it, it’s worth a read of Philip Collins’ piece in The Times on why this “whole sorry saga has been divisive and unnecessary”. We can only hope that the government and the opposition start realising it.

Prime minister’s notification letter

PM Letter to EU Council President by The Guardian on Scribd

EU parliament’s draft resolution

Draft Resolution by The Guardian on Scribd

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