Mon, Jul 25, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Could Britain have the option of stopping the Brexit process?

By Guy Faulconbridge  /  Reuters, LONDON

Since entering Downing Street, British Prime Minister Theresa May has quickly dispelled hopes that the UK might change its mind about leaving the EU.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she said in her inaugural speech.

She added later that Britain would take the time it needs to invoke the now notorious Article 50 of Europe’s de facto constitution governing a member’s divorce from the EU.

Both May and her new minister for Brexit have said Article 50 would not be triggered before the end of the year.

However, once May gets the UK onto the Brexit runway, can she turn back the aircraft?

That is the question many UK and continental European legal minds are now pondering.

One London firm of human rights lawyers has formally asked the government’s legal department to clarify whether a country can invoke Article 50 and begin the process of EU divorce — but then revoke it down the line.

May’s administration is also looking into the issue, as ministers study their position regarding the timing and aftermath of invoking Article 50, according to a person close to the government.

Article 50 of the EU’s 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which was drafted by a former British ambassador to the EU, has never been used, providing no legal precedent for how it works.

Yet how May navigates the 256-word provision is ultimately a political decision, government officials said, that will define her premiership and the future of Britain’s ties with the rest of Europe.

If Article 50 can be revoked after it is invoked, then May’s calculations of when and how to start Britain’s EU divorce could be radically different from the widely assumed “irrevocable trigger” of Article 50, according to lawyers and government sources.

Charles Streeten, a British barrister who has examined the legal arguments around the invocation and possible revocation of Article 50, said a country can unilaterally pull back at any point prior to the expiry of the two-year period during which, according to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU and the exiting state need to work out the terms of their divorce.

“The benefits of this should not be underestimated. If I am right, Britain would have a much stronger hand to play in the EU negotiations,” Streeten told reporters.

Streeten said the government should seek formal advice from the European Court of Justice on the matter.

Bindmans, a top London firm of human rights lawyers, has written to the government’s legal department seeking clarification on the revocability issue as well.

“It would appear to be in the UK’s interests for that issue to be resolved before the Article 50 process is commenced,” Bindmans wrote.

The department declined comment.

In Brussels, another view prevails.

EU lawyers said Britain could only revoke an Article 50 notification if all the other 27 members of the EU agreed. Otherwise, Britain could theoretically pull out of its divorce a day before the two-year negotiating period is up and start again, tangling the world’s biggest trading bloc in years of divorce talks.

The referendum has opened up the biggest period of British financial, political and constitutional uncertainty in modern times.

The vote has been cast by some lawyers as a “peasants’ revolt” that is now facing a “counterrevolution” because the vote went against the wishes of most of Britain’s political, financial and business elites.

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