The British government has advised the European Council that, on March 29, it will be officially communicating its intention to leave the EU. The Prime Minister will be sending a letter to the President of the European Council, Poland’s Donald Tusk, next Wednesday with the expectation of a reply before the end of the week. When the negotiations will actually begin is an open question, as the Council members will have to reach a consensus on the start date. At present, that is not likely to be before mid-May at the earliest.
The Brexit process is governed by Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon which entered into force in December 2009. Also known as the Reform Treaty, the treaty for the first time explicitly granted EU member states the right to leave the European Union and stipulated the procedure to be followed. Article 50 reads as follows:
1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49