There’s one thing above all you should know about Brexit before you decide how to vote: the contents of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The full text is below. “It’s a real horror—and no one outside the negotiations really knows about it,” said one senior official to me.
Clause 4 says that after a country has decided to leave, the other EU members will decide the terms—and the country leaving cannot be in the room in those discussions. Repeat: we’d have no say at all on the terms on which we’d deal with the EU from then on, and no opportunity to reconsider.
Think about it. If British people voted to leave, they might have based their decision on their best guess, in all the heat of the debate, about the answer to the 12 questions set out here. But the real answer to many of those questions would be hammered out only after the vote. We wouldn’t have a seat at the table in those talks between the remaining 27 members. They’d decide it themselves. We’d be presented with those terms. And if we didn’t like them, we couldn’t vote again; the decision would have been taken.
Last month, Anatole Kaletsky made the point that some EU members might seek punitive terms on future dealing with Britain, out of anger, or simply seizing an opportunity.
Who’d sign a deal like that in the first place? Well, the heads of 28 countries have done so, whether original signatories to Lisbon or arrivals since then. The effort needed to jump over the obstacles of compliance and paperwork is so formidable that the process becomes consuming; at that stage, officials get recognition for mastery of that process, not for raising objections. Leaders, once committed to entry, simply want in.
But if we’re seriously thinking of voting to get out, just take a moment and read Article 50, clause 4.
The full text
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 EU
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.