Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that the UK will notify the European Union of its intent to leave on 29th March.
If negotiations are completed within the two years outlined by this section of the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon, the UK will exit the Union in March 2019. EU leaders have further said that they wish for negotiations to be completed within 18 months, so that the UK’s exit terms can be ratified by the European and British Parliaments, as well obtaining the consent of the majority of EU states.
Talks on departure cannot commence until the formal notification is given, and there are concerns that it will not be possible to complete them within the Article 50 timeframe. May has previously indicated that she is willing to see the UK leave the EU with negotiations uncompleted, as she declared in her 17th January 2017 speech on Brexit policy: “I am […] clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
May has promised MPs and Peers that there will be a vote on the possible agreement, but that the UK will leave the EU even if it is rejected.
A recent Institute for Government report has additionally laid out the internal legislative challenges of Brexit: as many as 15 new bills will need to be passed by Parliament to set out post-EU policies on areas including customs and immigration. The report, Legislating Brexit, highlights that with the Queen’s Speech at the beginning of the year announcing an average of 20 new bills, little time may be left to scrutinise non-Brexit proposals.
Talks on departure cannot commence until the formal notification is given, and there are concerns that it will not be possible to complete them within the Article 50 timeframe.
Another complication emerges from Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon’s 13th March 2017 call for negotiations for a second independence referendum between Holyrood and Westminster. Michelle O’Neill, the new leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, has also stated that a referendum should be delivered “as soon as possible” on Northern Ireland leaving the UK and joining the Republic of Ireland.
While a majority of votes cast in last June’s referendum on continuing the UK’s place in the EU were in favour of leaving (51.9% to 48.1%), both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
Attempts by the House of Lords to modify the EU Withdrawal Bill, which allows May to begin Brexit negotiations, were defeated on 13th March. This rejected introducing guarantees that Parliament will have a meaningful vote on whether Brexit occurs after a final deal is proposed to it, and that EU residents’ right to live in the UK will be protected. The second provision was supported by an open letter signed by the Vice Chancellor of Oxford, and heads of 35 its Colleges and Permanent Private Halls. The rejection of this measure could have a strongly negative effect on students from EU countries attending Oxford, and universities across the UK.
The Prime Minister is currently touring Wales with Brexit Secretary David Davis, to, in her words, “strengthen and sustain the precious Union”.