The man who drafted Article 50 says he never imagined Britain would be the country to trigger itby Alex Dean / September 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Article 50” may be the most important term in British politics today. Everything revolves around it. It is Article 50 that triggered our exit from Europe in March, that sets the time limit on the—currently stalling—Brexit negotiations, and that we must revoke if, as the consequences of the “Leave” vote become clear, we decide we would like to Remain after all. The Brexit debate is immensely complicated—but Article 50 is at the centre of it all.
That in mind, I met with the man who drafted it, John Kerr, in the hope he could shed some light on Britain’s constitutional leap in the dark—and whether it is possible for us to change course. “Did I ever dream then that we, the Brits, could be the departing country? No I did not,” the seasoned diplomat confessed to me in Westminster last month.
Now, Kerr is in a rush to get Britain to change its mind. Having triggered A50 in March, we have just a year and a half left in which to settle with the EU. When he wrote the exit clause, Kerr included the two-year limit in part to “reassure” Eurosceptics who thought the EU was on the way to being a superstate, he told me. He drafted A50 thinking it was “important to emphasise that you could not be kept in the club by being meshed in an endless negotiation”—so the two-year limit really will count.
Now facing this strict deadline, Britain needs to get its act together—fast. Pro-Europeans are complacent, Kerr suggested, if they think they can play for time. Could Article 50 be extended? The PM today ruled it out, while Kerr told me: “Anything longer than about six months” is “implausible.” The clock is well and truly ticking.
Transitional arrangements won’t offer Britain much cover, either. “The transitional deal is the hardest to negotiate,” Kerr said. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t build a bridge to the destination.” Nor will a fudged option work. “I don’t think that the Norway option will do for us,” he said. The impression I got was that we may be looking at a situation with just two possibilities: a swift and hard exit, or continuity Remain.
His warnings will set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall, for…