Britain has some breathing space—but what to do with it? Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said recently that the extension of the Article 50 period until 31st October could give the UK time to “rethink Brexit,” and plenty of Remainers agree. So far, campaigners have largely focused their efforts on securing a so-called “People’s Vote” on whether the UK should leave the EU, while the Article 50 clock ticks. If Remain won, the UK would then revoke its Article 50 notice.
Some activists, however, do not want to wait, and have called for the UK to revoke now. Around 6m people have also petitioned the government to that effect. So how would it work in practice?
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) set out the basics of the process when giving judgment in the Wightman case last year. It gave us several important pointers on how revocation would play out.
First, this is a decision for the UK alone: if we want to stay, no EU member state can force us out. The court reasoned that it would not sit well with the EU’s commitment to the values of liberty and democracy, or its objective of ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, for a member state to be wrenched out of the EU against its will. In the same vein, other member states could not tamper with the UK’s membership. Current terms, including the UK’s opt-out from the euro and its budgetary privileges, would stay.
Second, the ECJ explained the mechanics. The revocation must be “submitted in writing to the European Council,” just as the initial Article 50 notice was, and it can happen at any time until the UK actually leaves the EU, whether there is a withdrawal agreement or not.
The court also held that revocation must be “unequivocal and unconditional.” That is open to different readings.
On the one hand, it might mean that the notice cannot leave the EU in any doubt that the UK wants the current Article 50 process to stop. The ECJ’s own gloss on “unequivocal and unconditional” was that the notice must make clear that “the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the member state concerned under terms that are unchanged.”